Two federal lawsuits are taking aim at rules in Washington and Maine that critics say unconstitutionally discriminate against religious schools and faith-based organizations when it comes to access to public funding.
In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last year in favor of a Lutheran church’s request for state playground revitalization funding, the educational choice advocacy group Institute for Justice has taken up two cases on opposite ends of the country that center around similar prohibitions against government education grants going to c.
In Maine, the organization has taken on the case of three families who filed a legal challenge this week against the state’s policy of excluding religious schools from the state’s school choice program.
As some towns in Maine are too small to warrant their own public high schools, the state gives families in those “tuitioning towns” the money the state would use to educate the children to spend on educating the kids at schools of their choice — whether private or public. However, families are not allowed to use that money to send their children to religious schools.
Aided by the First Liberty Institute in the case, the Institute for Justice argues that such a restriction on religious schools in Maine’s tuitioning program flies in the face of the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer case.
In the Trinity Lutheran ruling, the court held that a Missouri rule blocking government funding from going to churches — even for secular purposes like playground advancements for daycare centers — violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
“By prohibiting tuition payments for children whose parents choose to send them to sectarian schools, it forces parents to either forgo the benefit of tuition funds for their child or forgo their right to send their child to the school of their choice,” the lawsuit filed with the U.S. District Court of Maine states. “Defendant has no compelling, substantial, or even legitimate interest in denying tuition-eligible students and their parents sectarian options while allowing private secular options.”
In Washington state, the Institute for Justice has taken on the case of Summit Christian Academy in Spokane and students from Whitworth University. They filed a joint complaint last week over the state’s exclusion of religious organizations from a work-study program.
In the Evergreen State, the government operates a program that pays for a portion of a college student’s wages while they work part-time jobs that are usually related to their areas of study. While students are allowed to work for public, private, for-profit and nonprofit employers, employers that are sectarian in nature are excluded from the program.
That means that employers like the Summit Christian Academy or any other faith-based entity would not qualify to receive funds as part of the work-study program.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Samuel Smith