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Journal Tribune
Updated July 2, 2019
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Federal judge upholds Maine law, bars state funding to pay for religious schools

District Judge D. Brock Hornby did not address the merits of the arguments made Monday in U.S. District Court in Portland by the attorneys for the three families who sued the state to use public money to send their children to Bangor Christian School in Bangor and Temple Academy in Waterville.

Instead, he rejected the arguments by the three families and upheld a state law that prohibits public funds from being used at religious institutions.

The plaintiffs relied on a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court case that hinged on whether it was constitutional for a state to exclude a religious school from a state program that used public money to repave playgrounds. In that case, the Supreme Court decided in favor of the religious school, but with the distinction that their decision hinged, in part, on the fact fact that the paving money was not paying for religious educational programs.

Hornby cited existing case law that bars state money from paying for religious school programs if those schools maintain hiring practices that violate the Maine Human Rights Act, which since 2005 has prohibited religious groups from receiving public money if they maintain a discriminatory hiring policy against LGBTQ people, which both Maine schools do.

The case drew intense interest from outside groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, the United States Department of Justice, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, and others, and as Hornby acknowledged, is likely to proceed far beyond his Maine courtroom.

“It has always been apparent that, whatever my decision, this case is destined to go to the First Circuit on appeal, maybe even to the Supreme Court,” Hornby wrote. “I congratulate (the parties) on their written and oral arguments in this court. I hope that the rehearsal has given them good preparation for the First Circuit (and maybe even higher).”

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