The History Behind the Next Landmark School Choice Case

More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, with the public school system in crisis and teachers’ unions hell-bent on preventing the return of students to the classroom, parents are clamoring for alternatives to the educational status quo. The state of Maine, meanwhile, is hell-bent on denying them those alternatives: The state, which has a tuition assistance program for students in towns without a public school, flatly bars students from using their aid to attend schools that offer religious instruction. A new petition filed with the U.S. Supreme Court seeks to change that.

Maine’s tradition of hostility toward religion is as old as the state itself. Yet the animus used to be reserved for a few unlucky faiths. In 1853, for example, 16 Catholic students were expelled from their public school in Ellsworth. Their offense? Under the counsel of their pastor, Father John Bapst, they refused to read from the King James — or Protestant — version of the Bible.

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