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Federal Court Vetoes Tax Dollars For Religious Education In Maine

From People for the American Way

Victory in Maine

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For the second time in just over a month, a court in Maine has struck down efforts by Religious Right political activists who want taxpayers to fund religious schools. State and federal courts in Maine have ruled that such funding would violate the First Amendment prohibition of government support for religion.

"Vouchers are clearly a constitutional no-no in Maine -- no from the state court and no from the federal court," said People For the American Way Foundation President Carole Shields. "This sends a clear and powerful signal that tax dollars may not be used to subsidize someone else's religion."

The First Circuit Court of Appeals late last week upheld a U.S. District Court's decision that Maine may not be forced to expand its tuition program for rural school districts to include religious schools. The ruling comes on the heels of a similar decision by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which was handed down April 23. The two cases were similar in principle, but one was pursued in state court by Clint Bolick's Institute for Justice, while the most recent case was brought in federal court by Jay Sekulow's and Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice. PFAWF filed an amicus brief in both of the cases on the side of the State of Maine and opposing the Institute for Justice and American Center for Law and Justice.

The latest ruling, Elwood Strout et al. v. Commissioner, Maine Department of Education, arose in rural Maine, where towns and school districts too small to provide their own secondary school are permitted under state law to meet their obligations by paying tuition for students to attend either public schools in other districts or private, nonsectarian schools.

The case was brought by parents who were attempting to force their town to reimburse them for the tuition they paid for their children to attend St. Dominic's Regional High School, a private, Catholic school. The parents argued that the state had no right to disallow payments to sectarian schools.

PFAWF Legal Director Elliot Mincberg said that while Maine parents are free to send their children to religious schools, "they do not have the right to expect taxpayers to support that choice. The First Circuit Court has ruled that the words 'Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion' are crystal clear."

FOR RELEASE: Tuesday, June 1, 1999
CONTACT: Nancy Coleman, David Elliot or Lela Shepard at 202-467-4999


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