A Christian school is suing the state of Vermont for excluding it from participating in a state tuition program and school athletics because of its religious beliefs regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
Mid Vermont Christian School, a K-12 institution in Quechee, has filed a federal lawsuit against several Vermont education officials, including the leaders of the Vermont Agency of Education, the Vermont State Board of Education and the Vermont Principals' Association.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont on Nov. 20, claims that the state unlawfully discriminated against the school over its views on gender and sexuality.
The lawsuit alleges that Mid Vermont Christian School was kicked out of the state's Town Tuititioning Program, which enables students who live in school districts that do not operate public high schools to attend an "approved independent school" using publicly funded tuition dollars because it refused to publish a statement of nondiscrimination on its website and in its application materials vowing to abide by the Vermont Public Accommodations Act and the Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act.
The state amended Rule 2200, which governs the requirements for "approved independent schools," to require those seeking the designation to embrace the state's nondiscrimination laws.
In addition to the Town Tuitioning Program, "approved independent schools" can participate in the Dual Enrollment Program, which enables high school students to take up to two postsecondary courses at no cost.
The Vermont Public Accommodations Act mandates that owners or operators of public accommodations may not deny people "the accommodations, advantages, facilities, and privileges of the place of public accommodation" based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Vermont Fair Employment Practices Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees or potential employees "because of … religion … sexual orientation, [and] gender identity."
Schools seeking designation as an "approved independent school" were required to sign an addendum to their applications vowing to "affirm compliance" with the nondiscrimination laws.
Mid Vermont Christian School amended the addendum to clarify that it intended to operate in accordance with its religious beliefs.
"As a religious organization, the school has a statutory and constitutional right to make decisions based on its religious beliefs, including hiring and disciplining employees, associating with others, and in its admissions, conduct, and operations policies and procedures," the school wrote. "By signing this form, the Mid Vermont Christian School does not waive any such rights."
Mid Vermont Christian School vowed that "To the extent Rule 2200's requirements conflict with any of the school's beliefs, including on marriage and sexuality, the school has not included that language in its handbook or online, nor can it affirm that particular aspect of the Vermont Public Accommodations Act."
Because Mid Vermont Christian School refused to sign the addendum without the amendment, the state did not approve its designation as an "approved independent school" for the 2023-24 school year.
Mid Vermont Christian School has also been barred from participating in any middle or high school sports in the state because of its beliefs about gender and sexuality.
The Vermont Principals' Association, which controls participation in school sports, established a policy committed to "providing all students with the opportunity to participate in VPA activities in a manner consistent with their gender identity."
In other words, the VPA requires schools to allow trans-identified students to compete on sports teams that align with their stated gender identity rather than their biological sex.
Mid Vermont Christian School was expelled from the VPA earlier this year after expressing concern about the presence of a trans-identified biological male on a girls' basketball team the school was set to compete against.
The school has asked the court for an injunction prohibiting defendants from "denying Mid Vermont Christian as an approved independent school capable of receiving public benefits because of its religious character, beliefs, or exercise" and enforcing the LGBT-related policies of Rule 2200 and the VPA against it.
The complaint also asks a federal judge to declare said policies violations of the First and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
"Vermont has an infamous record of discriminating against religious schools and families, whether it be withholding generally available public funding or denying them membership in the state's sports league because they hold religious beliefs that differ from the state's preferred views," said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker in a statement.
"The state's unlawful exclusion of Mid Vermont Christian from participating in the tuition program and athletic association is the latest example of state officials trampling on constitutionally protected rights."
In June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in its Carson v. Makin decision that it was unlawful for the Maine government to prohibit parents from using state tuition programs to send their children to private religious schools.
The complaint noted that the state of Vermont only designated Mid Vermont Christian School as an "approved independent school" after the Carson decision.
Before the Carson decision, Vermont excluded Mid Vermont Christian School and other religious schools from the Town Tuitioning Program. The lawsuit characterized the amendments to Rule 2200 related to LGBT issues as "a new way to exclude religious schools" from the program.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com