Maine school board denies lease to church after asking about its Christian views on hot-button issues

The Pines Church
The Pines Church | Screenshot/Facebook

A Maine church that's outgrowing its existing meeting space and applied to the local school board to use a facility at a high school for its services saw its application denied allegedly after board members inquired about the congregation's views on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and transgenderism.

The Pines Church in Bangor, Maine, applied for the lease of a space at a local high school in Hermon. However, the school board rejected the application following inquiries into the church’s positions on various sociopolitical issues, including same-sex marriages and abortion, according to media reports.

Represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious freedom cases, The Pines Church last week filed a lawsuit against Hermon School Committee, The Daily Signal reported.

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“Public institutions that seek to lease their facilities for revenue should not be able to discriminate based on religious or political conviction,” Mariah Gondeiro, vice president and legal counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said in a statement.

“The Hermon School Committee has a history of leasing their properties to secular organizations without persecution. We are advocating for fair and equitable treatment under the law, and The Pines Church was denied that opportunity by the Hermon School Committee,” Gondeiro added.

The Pines Church had hoped to relocate to Hermon, where a large portion of its congregation resides, as other rental spaces were unavailable, CBN news said, adding, however, that during the application process, Superintendent Micah Grant and a member of the school board posed questions regarding the church’s stance on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Chris McLaughlin, a school board member, asked The Pines Church about its approach toward issues impacting marginalized communities. Questions asked included the church’s stance on same-sex marriages, access to abortion, so-called "gender-affirming care," conversion therapy (counseling for unwanted same-sex attractions) and inclusive sexual education.

The church believes these questions were an attempt to enforce religious and political conformity.

In response to these inquiries, the church’s legal representation argues in a lawsuit that the implications of the school board’s questions are clear: unless The Pines Church aligns with the school board’s religious and political beliefs, the board will not approve its lease proposal.

The suit further states that the school board’s actions are discriminatory, viewing religious institutions holding traditional views as second-class members of the community. The church is now calling for its rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and for Maine’s public accommodations laws to be upheld.

According to the lawsuit, the board ultimately rejected Pastor Matt Gioia’s lease proposal due to the church’s religious beliefs. Instead, the board offered a month-to-month lease, which the church found unfeasible due to planning and budgeting constraints.

“We are understandably disappointed with the process in which we had to go through, but we are not discouraged,” Pastor Gioia was quoted as saying. “We have seen the Lord move through our church and grow our community so much since our founding. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue our worship and fellowship without discrimination.”

The lawsuit seeks to mandate the school board to grant the church either a six-month or a yearlong lease and award the church compensatory damages.

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