PORTLAND, Maine A Superior Court judge has upheld a state law that prevents families from using state tuition vouchers to send their children to religious schools.
The Institute for Justice, a school-choice advocacy organization that sued on behalf of eight families from Minot, Raymond and Durham, said it would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court.
Richard Komer, who argued the case to Justice Robert Crowley in Cumberland County Superior Court, said that the state shouldn’t promote religion, nor should it discriminate against religion.
“School choice isn’t true choice when the state removes an entire class of options, as Maine did when it barred religious schools from participating in its tuitioning program,” he said in a statement.
The group argues that a 1981 Maine law barring the use of publicly funded vouchers at religious schools is unconstitutional.
An estimated 17,000 Maine students from 145 small towns without schools of their own currently use vouchers for all or part of their tuition at public and private secular schools.
A similar challenge to the law was made unsuccessfully seven years ago by a Raymond couple, Cynthia and Robert Bagley. The Supreme Judicial Court upheld the law, concluding that the use of public funding for students in religious schools violates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Komer argued that Maine’s law must follow precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2002 ruling Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which allowed families in Cleveland to use tuition vouchers at religious schools.
In a 17-page ruling, Justice Robert Crowley rejected arguments that the current state law is unconstitutional. Crowley’s ruling was dated Sept. 30, but it was not released until Oct. 4.
The eight families named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit pay to send their children to religious schools.
“None of the plaintiffs believe that their children must attend private sectarian schools as part of their religion. The decision to send their children to religious schools is a discretionary and voluntary choice that the families have made,” Crowley wrote in his decision.
The families were disappointed by his ruling.
“All we are asking for is the right to send our daughter to the school of our choice,” said Jill Guay, one of the plaintiffs. “We shouldn’t lose that right just because a religious school happens to be the best school for our daughter.”