Despite Supreme Court win, Maine church sues to maintain taxpayer-funding bigotry
Maine lets private schools receive taxpayer-funded tuition dollars as long as they follow the state's Human Rights Act. A Christian church refuses to do so.
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A church in Maine says in a new lawsuit that state officials are preventing it from receiving taxpayer-funded tuition dollars that the Supreme Court said was legal.
But the entire lawsuit is laughable when you understand how we got to this point.
The 2022 Supreme Court case Carson v. Makin involved a voucher program that allowed students in rural parts of Maine to have access to free education, even if that meant attending a private school.
The state already said it would cover private school tuition, even at church-run schools, as long as the education students received was secular in nature. But a lawsuit was filed by parents who wanted to send their kids to Christian schools that, among other things, promoted Creationism and discriminated against LGBTQ people in hiring. Maine wasn’t allowing taxpayer dollars to go there.
The Supreme Court essentially said in its horrible decision that the state was forbidden from discriminating against those schools on the basis of religion… which meant taxpayers would theoretically have to pay for religious indoctrination. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor put in her dissent, “Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”
But here’s the amazing thing: Lawmakers in Maine anticipated that outcome and took action to nullify the Supreme Court’s decision—at least in their state. Simply put, rather than stick with the previous law that banned money from going to explicitly religious schools, which was clearly in legal jeopardy, they passed a new law forbidding any taxpayer dollars from going to schools that discriminate against people on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. (More specifically, they expanded their anti-discrimination law to protect LGBTQ people—including at schools that are part of the voucher program.)
See? No religion involved.
That move forced the Christian schools at the center of that legal battle, Temple Academy in Waterville and Bangor Christian Schools, to make a decision about what mattered more to them: taxpayer-funded tuition dollars or faith-based bigotry?
The end result was that, by August, only one Christian school had opted into the voucher program—and it wasn’t even one of the schools that filed the Supreme Court lawsuit. Everyone else decided they would rather discriminate than take state funding.
Now the church that runs the Bangor Christian Schools, Crosspoint Church, is suing the state again.
Until recently, the state also exempted religious schools from certain nondiscrimination provisions to accommodate their religious beliefs… The exemption previously covered all religious schools, but the amendment narrowed it to protect only religious schools that do not participate in the tuitioning program. Without the exemption, religious schools are subject to investigations, complaints, and large fines for offering instruction consistent with their sincerely held religious beliefs. This “poison pill” effectively deters religious schools from participating and thereby perpetuates the religious discrimination at the heart of the sectarian exclusion.
That’s a lot of legalese to say something very basic: These Christians want to perpetuate bigotry and be rewarded for it. They’re furious that the state is putting civil rights over their desire to promote faith-based hatred—or, as they euphemistically call it, “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The lawsuit goes on to say that the “poison pill” prevents BCS “from teaching from its religious perspective,” as if anti-LGBTQ bigotry is core to everything they do. They also claim the law isn’t “generally applicable” (and therefore legal) since it applies to any school that accepts males and females—which means faith-based, single-sex schools that discriminate against LGBTQ people would be eligible for the tuition money. If they can have the money, the lawsuit says, we should have access to it as well.
Maine’s Attorney General Aaron Frey said in a statement, “If abiding by this state law is unacceptable to the plaintiffs, they are free to forego taxpayer funding.” A more formal response is forthcoming.
We’ll see if a judge buys the church’s argument. But the bottom line here is that no one is stopping this church or its schools from teaching hate. If that’s a core Christian belief to them, so be it. Let them shout their hate from the rooftops. Let the rest of us shine a spotlight on it.
But it’s absurd to whine about how the state is requiring participants in a statewide program to adhere to the state’s Human Rights Act. If the church ends up winning this case, it’ll be on a legal technicality, not because they have any kind of ethical or moral upper hand here.
(Portions of this article were published earlier)
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