Written by Don Byrd

Plaintiffs in Maine and have filed a new federal lawsuit this week challenging a state law restricting taxpayer funds from being used for religious education. The complaints seek to build on the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church, which invalidated Missouri’s exclusion of houses of worship from a state playground refurbishment program, to require their respective states to provide money for religious school tuition, despite state laws barring such funding. 

The Portland Press Herald has more:

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Bangor challenges a decades-old law in Maine. Local school administrative units that do not have their own secondary schools can pay a certain amount in tuition for students to go to outside public or private schools. But that money cannot be used at religious schools, a policy that the complaint calls discriminatory and unconstitutional.

This is the third time the Institute for Justice has filed a legal challenge in Maine over this issue. The law firm took similar cases in 1997 and 2002, losing both times.

[Institute attorney Tim] Keller said the group decided to try again in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year. In that case, Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri was barred from participating in a state program that reimburses the cost of rubberizing playground surfaces. The nation’s highest court ultimately decided the church should be eligible for that public funding. To advocates for school choice, it was an opening.

“That was our cue to try one more time in Maine,” Keller said.

A somewhat similar religious funding suit was filed earlier this month in Washington State. Meanwhile, a lawsuit challenging Montana’s ban on government funding of religious school tuition is currently pending before the state’s supreme court.

For more on this issue, see the Baptist Joint Committee’s Trinity Lutheran Church resource page.