A Bangor Christian school is suing Maine officials, claiming that changes to a state law to prevent discrimination against gay and transgender students keeps some religious schools from participating in a tuition reimbursement program.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that students in towns without a public high school can use taxpayer money to attend a religious school.

But a year before the ruling, Maine lawmakers changed an exemption to the state’s Human Rights Act and said religious schools would have to comply with its rules on sexual orientation and gender identity to receive state funding. The previous law exempted religious schools from those rules regardless of whether received funding.

Crosspoint Church in Bangor, which oversees the Bangor Christian School, filed a civil complaint in federal court Monday against Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin and the five members of the Maine Human Rights Commission alleging that the change is a “poison pill” that forces the school to choose between following its religious beliefs or making its gender identity policies line up with the Human Rights Commission to receive public funding.

The lawsuit follows a lengthy battle over Maine’s tuition reimbursement program that ended in the Supreme Court last year. In that case, two families sued the state arguing they were eligible for the program but unable to spend taxpayer money on the religious school of their choice because of a state law barring most religious schools from receiving public funds.

Bangor Christian School was one of those schools.



Changes to the Human Rights Act were introduced in May 2021, three months after the appeal was sent to the U.S. Supreme Court that February.

Public testimony before the Legislature at the time didn’t mention the lawsuit against the state. Instead, most people who submitted testimony focused on changes that clarified rules on discrimination based on gender identity that have existed in Maine since 2005.

Equality Maine Executive Director Gia Drew said Tuesday that gender identity was previously included under the definition of sexual orientation. Those protections were upheld in a 2014 ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that found a school had violated a transgender girl’s rights by denying her access to the women’s restroom.

However, attorneys for Crosspoint Church said statements by public officials after the Supreme Court’s 2022 ruling indicated that the religious exemption was added precisely because of that expected ruling.

The church’s complaint includes a tweet from former House Speaker Ryan Fecteau stating that lawmakers “anticipated the ludicrous decision from the far-right SCOTUS” in response to another tweet that Maine “changed the guidelines to exclude schools that discriminate against LGBTQ+ students.”


Fecteau said Tuesday that he was not able to comment on the tweet or intent of the legislation. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Craig Hickman, did not respond to an email asking to talk about the intent behind the law change. A spokesperson for the Senate Majority Office referred the Press Herald to written testimony Hickman submitted at a public hearing in May 2021, where he did not mention the pending case.


Despite the Supreme Court ruling last June, the school says that it’s still ineligible to receive taxpayer dollars because of its policy barring students from identifying as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth. A dress code also requires students to dress according to the gender they were assigned at birth. Students who violate the school’s codes of conduct are subject to expulsion.

“A religious school has to be able to teach from its religious perspective, that’s what makes it a religious school,” said Lea Patterson, an attorney for the First Liberty Institute, the conservative, Christian legal nonprofit based in Plano, Texas, that is representing Crosspoint in this case.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office, which represented Maine officials before the Supreme Court in the recent lawsuit, said in a statement Tuesday that the Maine Human Rights Act is in place to prevent discrimination.

“All Mainers deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, whether it be in their workplace, their housing, or in their classrooms,” Attorney General Aaron Frey said. “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 forgo taxpayer funding.”


To date, the only religious school that has qualified for the tuition reimbursement program is Cheverus High School in Portland, but the state is still accepting applications for next year with a deadline to apply by July 1.

The attorney general’s office previously has said there are about 5,000 students in Maine who are eligible for the tuition reimbursement program. But some towns across the state still offer students public dollars to attend a school of their choice, even if there’s a local high school because they were grandfathered in when the state changed its program in 2000 to consolidate schools. The state doesn’t know the number of communities where this applies.

There are at least 28 students at Bangor Christian School who are eligible for tuition reimbursement, according to the complaint. That’s roughly 30% of its current high school enrollment.

Crosspoint Church said it also pays for tuition for eight students who would qualify because their parents are employees of the church. If those students were able to spend public funds on their tuition at Bangor Christian School, it would save the church more than $47,000.

A spokesperson for Makin and the Department of Education declined to comment on the new lawsuit Tuesday, saying they can’t speak about pending litigation. A message left with the Human Rights Commission’s executive director asking to talk to members about the claims was not returned.

Crosspoint Church did not respond to requests for further information on their decision to sue Tuesday.

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