Maine Court Upholds Exclusion of Religious Options From Statewide School Choice Program

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · October 4, 2004

Washington, D.C.-In a decision dated September 30 and released today, Maine Superior Court Justice Robert E. Crowley upheld a state law that erroneously and unfairly excludes parents who choose religious schools from the state’s century-old “tuitioning,” or rural school choice program.

The Institute for Justice, the nation’s leading legal school choice advocacy organization, is challenging the law on behalf of eight families from three small towns in Maine—Durham, Minot and Raymond—where the local school districts offer high school tuition for students to attend the schools of their choice in lieu of maintaining public schools. The Institute will appeal the ruling to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“School choice isn’t true choice when the State removes an entire class of options, as Maine did when it barred religious schools from participating in its tuitioning program,” said IJ Senior Litigation Attorney Richard Komer. “Maine’s tuitioning program should not favor religion, but to discriminate against religion as it now does is simply unfair and unconstitutional. The State should allow parents to select religious schools for their children among a range of other private and public options.”

Until 1981, Maine’s choice system permitted the selection of religious schools. But then the Maine legislature reversed course under the mistaken belief that allowing parents to choose religious schools would violate the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution. In 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a green light to including religious options in a school choice program such as Maine’s. So now, parents like Lionel and Jill Guay of Minot are fighting for the right to send their children to the schools of their choice.

“All we are asking for is the right to send our daughter to the school of our choice,” said Jill Guay. “We shouldn’t lose that right just because a religious school happens to be the best school for our daughter.”