Maine High Court Upholds School Tuition Program

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
April 26, 2006 12:00 am

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MCLU Applauds Decision Protecting Government-Free Religion

PORTLAND, ME -- In a 6-to-1 decision, the Maine Supreme Court today ruled that the state is not required to fund religious education with taxpayer money.

“The Supreme Court’s decision today shows a deep appreciation for the First Amendment and for our nation’s traditions,” said Main Civil Liberties Union Cooperating Attorney Jeffrey Thaler. “The Maine Legislature’s decision not to fund religious education is based on an awareness that government interference in religion could lead to real problems.”

In writing for the majority of the Court, Justice Donald Alexander found that state’s reasons for declining to fund religious education—“excessive entanglement between religion and state” and “concerns about maintaining diversity within the public schools, and avoiding involvement in discrimination in admissions and hiring by religious schools”—were all legitimate. The Court rejected the claim that the state’s decision was motivated by hostility towards religion or religious schools.

“The MCLU is opposed to government involvement in religion,” said Zachary Heiden, MCLU Staff Attorney. “Religion is simply too important to be needlessly entangled with the government.”

Today’s decision, Anderson et al. v. Town of Durham et al., upholds a Cumberland County Superior Court ruling, which found in favor of the State of Maine and parents opposed to public funding of religious education. In 2004, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit decided a nearly identical case in Eulitt et al. v. Maine Department of Education. The MCLU submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in that case.

“Government-free religion remains a major priority for the Maine Civil Liberties Union,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the MCLU. “Religious institutions, such as private schools, currently enjoy a great amount of independence from the government currently enjoy a great amount of independence from the government.”

Heiden, of the MCLU, and Thaler, of Bernstein Shur, represented the taxpayers who were defending Maine’s decision to stay out of the religion business. Thaler played a key role in both of these cases and presented oral argument on behalf of the interveners in Anderson.

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