The Institute for Justice, a libertarian advocacy group that defends school choice programs in court, brought two new federal lawsuits aimed at unlocking public funding for religious schools — and building off momentum from the Supreme Court’s 2017 ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. That decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, held that Missouri wrongly denied a church a state grant “simply because of what it is — a church.”
One of the lawsuits alleges that Maine unconstitutionally excludes religious schools from one of the nation’s oldest school choice programs . Under the program, the state covers 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. “Maine’s denial of a generally available public benefit — tuition payments for secondary education — to Plaintiffs because their children attend a sectarian school violates the principle that the government must not discriminate against, or impose legal difficulties on, religious individuals or institutions simply because they are religious,” the lawsuit says.
The other lawsuit targets a so-called Blaine amendment in Washington state , which prohibits state money from supporting religious institutions. Because of the amendment to the state’s constitution, Washington’s work-study program only allows college students to make money working at non-religious organizations. “In sum, under the State Work-Study Program, a student may work for the government, a non-sectarian non-profit organization, or an international for-profit corporation (even in one of its international offices), but she may not feed the homeless at a church’s soup kitchen or tutor a child at a church-run school,” the lawsuit says.
“Although the plaintiffs in these cases live at opposite ends of the country, they face similar discriminatory laws rooted in anti-religious animus,” attorneys for the Institute for Justice wrote in The Wall Street Journal this week, noting the lawsuits “seek to build on” the Trinity Lutheran ruling. “A victory in their cases could clear the way for states to adopt programs that empower parents — rather than government — to direct the education of their children.”
By Benjamin Wermund for Politico Morning Education