Maine OKs 1st Religious School for Tuition Reimbursement

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PORTLAND, Maine (TBEN) — Maine is willing to fund tuition for some religious students for the first time since a June Supreme Court ruling ordered the state to treat those schools the same as other private schools in terms of tuition reimbursement.

Cheverus High School, a Jesuit college preparatory school in Portland, was the only religious school to apply to participate in the state’s tuition reimbursement plan and the application was approved by the state.

Carroll Conley, executive director of the Christian Civic League of Maine, said he was encouraged by the first religious school tuition fees since the 1980s in Maine.

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“We are hopeful and encouraged that (others) may be able to find a path to a path to participate next year,” he said.

There was no immediate comment from Cheverus, a Roman Catholic school not administered by the Portland Diocese.

There have been several lawsuits over the years since the state ended tuition fees for religious schools before the Supreme Court ruled that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a program that offers private tuition in cities where there are no public high schools.

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The Supreme Court’s 6-3 decision was the latest in a series of court rulings favoring religion-based discrimination claims. It could give new impetus to school elective programs in a number of states that have so far not spent taxpayers’ money on private, religious education.

Despite the win, religious schools are taking a cautious approach after Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said all schools that accept public funds must abide by the Maine Human Rights Act.

The law prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or disability. That would include accepting gay and transgender teachers and students, which could conflict with the beliefs of some religious schools.

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In the Maine case that led to the Supreme Court ruling, parents sued in federal court to use state aid to send their children to Christian schools in Bangor and Waterville. The two schools in question, Temple Academy in Waterville and Bangor Christian Schools, have policies that discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, Frey said.

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