An educational choice advocacy group is supporting two lawsuits in Washington and Maine, arguing that laws in the states unconstitutionally discriminate against religious school and other faith-based organizations regarding public funding.
The Institute for Justice’s lawsuits comes after the Supreme Court’s ruling in 2017 that decided a Missouri church should not be barred from secular aid programs.
In Maine, the organization is advocating for three families that filed a legal challenge against a policy of prohibiting religious schools from the state’s school choice program.
In many parts of Maine, the cities aren’t large enough to be zoned for public high schools, so the state offers families money to be spent on their schools of choice, including both private and public schools.
Under the law, however, families cannot use the money to send their children to religious schools.
"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, the Institute for Justice is supporting a case where a Christian school in Spokane and Whitworth University students jointly filed a complaint against the state’s policy of excluding religious groups from a work-study program.
The program pays for part of a college student’s earnings while they work at part-time jobs. Under the program, students can work for public, private, for-profit and non-profit employers. However, employers that are sectarian are excluded.
The attorney representing the Spokane Christian school, Summit Christian Academy, say the school needs the federal help to pay college students.
"Washington's exclusion of sectarian options from the Work-Study Program is a clear-cut case of religious discrimination,” Michael Bindas, a senior attorney with the Institute for Justice, said in a statement.
“The U. S. Constitution requires government to be neutral toward religion, not hostile. By denying work-study opportunities to students simply because they desire to work for a religious employer, Washington is running afoul of the First Amendment."
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