Institute for Justice Considers Appeal Of Adverse Maine School Choice Decision

Matt Powers
Matt Powers · April 23, 1999

Washington, D.C.—The Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice today announced that it will soon decide whether or not to appeal a decision handed down today by Maine’s Supreme Judicial Court allowing the state to exclude the choice of religious schools from the state’s tuitioning program.

In Maine, parents who live in towns without public schools have the right to select the school that best suits their children’s educational needs.  The town then pays tuition to the school that the parents choose.  Parents who live in “tuitioning towns” are free to pick any school for their children—public or private, in-state or out-of-state.  Any school, that is, unless it is religious.  Maine law singles out religious schools, and religious schools only, for discrimination, prohibiting towns from paying tuition to any school that is “sectarian.”  On July 31, 1997, the Institute for Justice filed Bagley v. Town of Raymond, a lawsuit that challenges the exclusion of religious schools from Maine’s school choice program.

Cynthia and Robert Bagley live in Raymond, Maine, a small rural town that does not operate a high school.  The Bagleys and four other families asked the Town of Raymond to pay tuition for their sons to Cheverus High School, an all-boys Catholic school in Portland.  The town denied their requests because Cheverus is a religious school.  Represented by the Institute for Justice, these families filed suit charging that the Maine law that prohibits parents from selecting a religious school for their children, violates the U.S. and Maine Constitutions’ guarantees of the free exercise of religion and equal protection of the laws.  The lawsuit was filed in Cumberland Country Superior Court.

“This decision is clearly inconsistent with recent U.S. Supreme Court precedent,” said Richard Komer, senior litigator for the Institute for Justice’s which litigated the case.  “Considering that this law singles out the choice of religious schools alone for exclusion, it is hard to see how it is not discriminatory.”

Over the past year, the Institute for Justice and its allies have won important legal victories advancing parental school choice in Wisconsin and Arizona.  Voucher proponents are still awaiting decisions on the constitutionality of vouchers/tuitioning in Ohio and Vermont, having argued cases before those state supreme courts.

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[NOTE:    To arrange interviews on this subject, journalists may call John Kramer, the Institute for Justice’s vice president for communications, at (202) 955-1300 or in the evening/weekend at (301) 972-2424.]

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