Students at Christian schools can’t be banned from Vt. dual enrollment program: appeals court

Wikimedia Commons/Rantemario
Wikimedia Commons/Rantemario

Students who attend private faith-based schools in Vermont are now allowed to take dual enrollment college classes, a court has ruled after the state banned students at non-secular schools from taking advantage of the program.

In an order released last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted the plaintiffs an emergency injunction, allowing students at faith-based private schools to enroll in college courses, just as students at secular public and private schools are allowed to do. 

Last year, a group of plaintiffs, including students at faith-based schools and their parents, filed a lawsuit against Vermont which had banned them from accessing the dual enrollment fund.

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The brief argued that the plaintiffs, which included the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, “have a strong likelihood of success on the merits of their claims.”

Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative law firm that specializes in religious liberty cases and represented the diocese and students, celebrated the order.

“No state can discriminate against students based on which kind of school they attend,” stated ADF Senior Counsel and Vice President of Appellate Advocacy John Bursch. “It makes no sense for the state to say it will pay for a student from a public or secular private school to take a college course at a public university, for example, but then say that a student from a faith-based private school cannot receive the same funding to attend that exact public university class.”

To justify the emergency order, the appeals court cited the U.S. Supreme Court decision Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which was released in late June.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court concluded in Espinoza that Montana parents should be allowed to use a public scholarship program to send their children to religious private schools.

“Montana’s no-aid provision bars religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools. The provision also bars parents who wish to send their children to a religious school from those same benefits, again solely because of the religious character of the school,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority.

“A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor authored one of the dissenting opinions in the case, arguing that “a State may refuse to extend certain aid programs to religious entities when doing so avoids ‘historic and substantial’ antiestablishment concerns.”

“Montana may properly decline to subsidize religious education. Involvement in such spiritual matters implicates both the Establishment Clause … and the free exercise rights of taxpayers,” concluded Sotomayor. 

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