Written by Don Byrd
The ACLU has asked to intervene to defend a Maine law that bars government money from being used to fund religious schools. The law is under attack in a new federal lawsuit that claims the denial of such funding is unconstitutional.
The suit was brought on behalf of three families that live in towns without public high schools. They are seeking some reimbursement from the state for tuition to private religious schools just as others receive funds for the cost to attend outside public or non-religious private schools.
“Maine’s state and federal courts have consistently held that Maine’s law is constitutional because taxpayers cannot be required to pay to teach children how to pray,” Zachary Heiden, legal director at the ACLU of Maine said in a press release. “We’ve helped defend this law four times already, and we hope to do so again.”
“We have filed this case in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2017 decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer,” Tim Keller, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, said in August. “In that case, the Supreme Court held that the state of Missouri could not, consistent with the free exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, exclude a religious school from a grant program that reimbursed schools for resurfacing their playgrounds with recycled tires.”
This is just another in a long line of cases that is testing the limits of the Trinity Lutheran Church decision. While seemingly measures itself, the reach of that ruling threatens to open floodgates of federal funds and other government benefits to churches and church-related entities, with diminishing regard for the dangers of church-state entanglements.
For more on Trinity Lutheran Church, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s resource page.