Maine Gov. Janet Mills’ Administration Sued for Discrimination Against Catholic Schools

St. Dominic Academy in Auburn, Maine, filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against the administration of Gov. Janet Mills (pictured above) (D) and the Maine Human Rights Commission that alleges the state has continued to “outmaneuver” the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin by excluding religious schools from its longstanding program whereby students residing in districts without a public school are allowed to attend the public or private school of their family’s choosing.

The lawsuit, St. Dominic Academy v. Makin, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine, explains the background of the case:

For years, Catholic schools in Maine served rural families that participated in Maine’s town tuitioning program. Under this program, Maine pays private school tuition for families who live in rural areas where there is no public school. But in 1980, Maine announced that it was excluding all “sectarian” religious schools—including Catholic schools—from its program. John Bapst, a Diocesan high school in Bangor, closed immediately. Between 1998 and 2019, Maine families filed five separate lawsuits challenging Maine’s discriminatory rule.

In 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 6-3, in Carson v. Makin that Maine’s rule violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment and is, therefore, unconstitutional.

Keith Radonis and Valori Radonis, who live in Whitefield, Maine, and have joined St. Dominic Academy in the lawsuit, would like to send their children to that school, which is the only diocesan high school in Maine.

“However, they cannot do so, because in 2021, just after the parents in Carson asked the Supreme Court to review their case, Maine amended its human rights law to add more rules intended to keep religious schools out,” the lawsuit explains.

As The Maine Wire reported Wednesday after the Supreme Court ruled in Carson, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey (D) issued a statement in which he doubled down on the stance that religious schools should be excluded from the state’s Town Tuitioning program due to their religious beliefs, claiming that faith-based schools “promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.”

“I am terribly disappointed and disheartened by today’s decision,” Frey said at the time. “Public education should expose children to a variety of viewpoints, promote tolerance and understanding, and prepare children for life in a diverse society.”

He added:

The education provided by the schools at issue here is inimical to a public education. They promote a single religion to the exclusion of all others, refuse to admit gay and transgender children, and openly discriminate in hiring teachers and staff. One school teaches children that the husband is to be the leader of the household. While parents have the right to send their children to such schools, it is disturbing that the Supreme Court found that parents also have the right to force the public to pay for an education that is fundamentally at odds with values we hold dear. I intend to explore with Governor Mills’ administration and members of the Legislature statutory amendments to address the Court’s decision and ensure that public money is not used to promote discrimination, intolerance, and bigotry.

“Maine is willing to pay for kids to go to all-girls boarding schools in Massachusetts and public schools in Quebec, but parents who choose Catholic schools like St. Dominic—which have been educating Maine kids for more than a century—are still out in the cold,” said Adèle Auxier Keim, senior counsel at Becket, which represents St. Dominic and the Radonis parents.

“Maine lawmakers boasted about changing the law to avoid the Supreme Court’s decision in Carson,” Keim added. “That’s illegal and unfair. We are confident that Maine’s new laws will be struck down just like their old ones were.”

Becket states it will ask the court “to halt Maine’s ban on faith-based education immediately while the court considers the case.”

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Background Photo “St. Dominic Academy Campus” by St. Dominic Academy. 




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