David Sharp, Associated Press –

The DOJ is backing students and parents who have filed a lawsuit alleging that Maine unconstitutionally excludes religious schools from one of the nation’s oldest school choice programs.  Under the program, the state covers the costs for students to attend a school of their choice if they live in towns too small to maintain public secondary schools. But under state law, those schools must be nonsectarian.

Three families in Glenburn and Palermo sued in U.S. District Court to force the state to pay for their children to attend Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy.  The suit, filed in a district court in Maine, is supported by The Institute for Justice, a libertarian advocacy group that defends school choice programs in court. The DOJ filed a statement of interest in the case on Monday and argued excluding otherwise eligible students because they attend religious schools violates the First Amendment.

“By putting students to a ‘choice’ between participating in the ‘otherwise available’ tuition program and remaining enrolled at a religious institution, the State has ‘impose[d] a penalty on the free exercise of religion,'” the filing says.

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