Bangor church sues over law requiring its school to accept LGBTQ students, staff to get public funds
A religious school in Bangor is suing the state of Maine over a recently passed law saying that schools cannot discriminate on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and gender identity if they receive public funds.
Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Maine could not exclude religious schools from a state program providing public tuition funds for students in certain towns without their own schools.
That ruling opened the door for approved religious schools to receive public funds.
But two years ago, the Maine legislature passed a law amending the Maine Human Rights Act. Among several changes, the law bars religious schools that receive public funds from discriminating on the basis of religion, sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a lawsuit filed Monday, Crosspoint Church, which operates Bangor Christian Schools, argued that law violates the school's free exercise of religion.
The church writes that if the state approved Bangor Christian Schools for tuition purposes, the recent changes to law would "substantially burden" the school's religious exercise by conditioning the school's "participation in a generally available tuition program on Plaintiff forfeiting its right to operate BCS consistent with its religious beliefs."
Lea Patterson, an attorney with the First Liberty Institute representing the church, argued that the new rules were intentionally created so that the school could not receive tuition payments. The lawsuit cites a press release from Attorney General Aaron Frey noting that schools that accept public funds "must comply with anti-discrimination provisions of the Maine Human Rights Act, and this would require some religious schools to eliminate their current discriminatory practices."
"And the Attorney General singled out particular religious beliefs of this school," Patterson said. "And vowed to exclude them from the program, using the Maine Human Rights Act. Because they didn't like these schools' religious beliefs. And that is unconstitutional religious discrimination."
Bangor Christian Schools prohibits students from identifying as a gender other than their sex assigned at birth, and requires students to wear clothing consistent with that sex.
All teachers must practice religion consistent with the church's standards and must adhere to "biblical standards of conduct, including those relating to sexual behavior; the use of alcohol, drugs and tobacco; lewd public dancing; gambling; and any other activity that would hinder a teachers' religious testimony."
In a statement, Attorney General Aaron Frey said that "all Mainers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it be in their workplace, their housing, or in their classrooms. The Maine Human Rights Act is in place to protect Mainers from discrimination and the Office of the Attorney General is steadfast in upholding the law. If abiding by this state law is unacceptable to the plaintiffs, they are free to forego taxpayer funding."
So far, Maine has approved one religious school - Portland's Cheverus High School - to receive public tuition dollars.