Maine Civil Liberties Union Urges High Court to Keep Government Out of Religion Business

Affiliate: ACLU of Maine
March 24, 2005 12:00 am

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Group Defends State Decision Not to Fund Religious Education

PORTLAND, ME – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court heard arguments today in a case that will determine whether the state can be forced to fund religious education with taxpayer money through its school voucher program.

“Unlike public schools, religious schools are free to make decisions about who can teach or who can attend based on race, gender, or religion,” said Zachary Heiden, Staff Attorney for the Maine Civil Liberties Union and co-counsel on behalf of the state. “Taxpayer money should be used to ensure that all children get an education, but it should not go to subsidize discrimination.”

At issue is a lawsuit brought by activists seeking to divert public funds to religious schools by allowing the schools to participate in the state’s voucher program. The Maine Civil Liberties Union stepped in to defend the state, saying that government-funded religion could quickly lead to government-funded discrimination. The Superior Court previously ruled in favor of the state and the Maine Civil Liberties Union. The case, Anderson v. Town of Durham, is now being heard on appeal. In a nearly identical case brought in 2004, Eulitt et al. v. Maine Department of Education, the federal court also sided with the state and rejected an attempt to force the state to fund religious education.

“Religious freedom remains a major priority for the Maine Civil Liberties Union,” said Shenna Bellows, Executive Director of the Maine Civil Liberties Union. “Religious institutions, such as schools, currently enjoy a great amount of independence from the government. If Maine begins funding religious schools, those schools will become ‘hired hands’ of the state, thus trading self-sufficiency for government funds. Religious institutions should be circumspect and remember one thing: the government does not fund what it cannot regulate.”

If the Maine Law Court were to reverse the lower court decision in Anderson, the next legal step would be to the United States Supreme Court. Just last year, however, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the state of Washington’s decision not to fund religious education with taxpayer money in Locke v. Davey. That opinion was authored by Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

In addition to Heiden, attorney Jeffrey Thaler of Bernstein, Shur, Sawyer and Nelson is representing intervenors on behalf of the state of Maine.

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