Landmark Supreme Court Decision With Maine Ties Helps Define Boundaries of Church and State

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 9:05 AM EDT
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PRESQUE ISLE, Maine (WAGM) -A groundbreaking Supreme Court decision yesterday that is defining the boundaries of Church and State is affecting the state of Maine. The Carson family of Penobscot County sued the Maine Department of Education to allow them to use their public education voucher to attend a religious high school, which was not allowed under Maine Law.

A supreme court decision on Tuesday struck down maine’s restriction on tuition vouchers as unconstitutional. Jamison Coppola, the Government Relations Director for the American Association of Christian Schools, sees this as a win for parents across the state and country.

Jamison Coppola - Government Relations Director - AACS " Good day for parents, victory for parents. Our schools exist to serve families and we are grateful that families will be able to now have more choice for how to deliver that education to their children:”

Richard Lyons, the Superintendent of RSU 29 in Houlton is concerned about what the ruling could mean for public schools

Richard Lyons - Superintendent - RSU 29 " If the parents were given the prerogative to choose between their home schools and the religious schools, one could probably conclude very clearly that there would be a drain of the public schools...I think there’s a lot of answers in the ruling , the ruling was very simple in the sense that public funds could now be used to pay tuition for religious schools, the follow up questions are a little bit more in detail that have to be answered. for example, such a distance like ours where we have a high school vs a previous district I was superintendent in, Veazie down by bangor, Veazie does not have a high school, it seems logical to conclude that the public funds could be paid towards any school that the parents choose to send their children. I think the ruling is pretty straight forward, it will be interesting to see some of the details that come hereafter.”

Coppola says the difference between religious schools and public schools are minimal.

Jamison " we’re educators first and foremost , we educate from a religious perspective because the tenants of our religion ask us to do that, so it will mean more options for parents in maine and it wont treat them as somehow the outside of the good civic purpose of providing education to children”

Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey disagrees with that sentiment and Released the following statement about the supreme court decision:

“I am terribly disappointed and disheartened by today’s decision. Public education should expose children to a variety of viewpoints, promote tolerance and understanding, and prepare children for life in a diverse society. The education provided by the schools at issue here is inimical to a public education. They promote a single religion to the exclusion of all others, refuse to admit gay and transgender children, and openly discriminate in hiring teachers and staff. One school teaches children that the husband is to be the leader of the household. While parents have the right to send their children to such schools, it is disturbing that the Supreme Court found that parents also have the right to force the public to pay for an education that is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear. I intend to explore with Governor Mills’ administration and members of the Legislature statutory amendments to address the Court’s decision and ensure that public money is not used to promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.”

Attorney General Frey went onto say that the Supreme Court’s Decision paves the way for for religious schools to apply to receive public funds, it is not clear whether any religious schools will do so. Educational facilities that accept public funds must comply with anti-discrimination provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act. WAGM will continue to follow this story. Corey Bouchard, NS8

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