Maine High Court Rejects Vouchers for Religious Schools
Maine's highest court has ruled that the state does not have to provide publicly funded vouchers to parents who want to send their children to religious schools.
Parents in districts without public high schools challenged a Maine law that provides publicly funded tuition for students to attend private school -- or a public school in another district -- but not a religious school.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court's ruling says that this "tuitioning" program doesn't violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because the state has a number of legitimate reasons for excluding religious schools. Reasons for exclusion include avoiding an excessive entanglement between religion and the state, maintaining diversity within the public schools, and refusing to subsidize religious schools that may engage in discrimination in admissions and hiring.
The Court also held that the law does not violate the parents' First Amendment right to the free exercise of their religion because attendance at a religious school is not mandated by their faith, and the denial of a publicly funded subsidy for religious education does not pressure religious adherents to modify their beliefs.
The Associated Press (AP) reported that the April 26, 2006 ruling in Anderson v. Town of Durham marked the second time in a decade that the state high court has upheld a 1983 law, which bans tuition vouchers from being paid to parochial schools.
An estimated 17,000 Maine students from 145 small towns with no high schools are subject to the voucher program, according to the AP report. Towns are allowed to pay for those students to attend a public or a private school, so long as it's not a parochial school.
NEA attorneys represented taxpayers/parents who intervened in the case as defendants and filed party briefs in the lower court and in the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.