Maryland Christian school falsely denied voucher funding: court

Bethel Christian Academy in Savage
Bethel Christian Academy in Savage, Maryland. |

A federal judge ruled that Maryland illegally discriminated against a Christian school because of its traditional views on marriage and gender identity when the state denied it access to a voucher program.

United States District Court Judge Stephanie Gallagher on Friday ruled state officials violated Bethel Christian Academy’s First Amendment rights in Savage by excluding the school from the enlargement voucher program options and opportunities for students today.

Gallagher, a person appointed by Trump, argued that the state had failed to provide evidence that Bethel’s policies had “deterred a single potential candidate from applying for admission” or that “Bethel had previously refused the admitting, expelling or disciplining a student on the basis of his or her sexual orientation. “

“Not only was the defendants’ decision to exclude Bethel from BOOST eligibility based on Bethel’s speech, it was also based on the specific views Bethel chose to express in its admissions policy,” Gallagher wrote in his ruling. “The First Amendment, which is applicable to states through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits laws that restrict free speech.”

The judge concluded that “the First Amendment prevents defendants from attempting to use BOOST funding as leverage to force beneficiaries to express opinions that defendants find more acceptable.”

The ruling also rejected an effort by state officials to have Bethel repay $ 102,000 of the BOOST funding he received in the first two academic years he was eligible for the program.

Ryan Tucker of the Defending Freedom Alliance, a conservative legal nonprofit representing Bethel, said in a statement that the ruling showed Maryland “cannot discriminate against religious schools just because it doesn’t like their schools. religious beliefs”.

“The court was firmly determined to prevent the state from targeting and denying scholarships to children simply on the basis of the beliefs and policies set out in their school’s parent-student handbook,” Tucker said.

BOOST was established in 2016 by the state legislature and jointly overseen by the Maryland State Department of Education and a seven-member advisory board.

BOOST funding is given to students to attend non-public schools in the state, with 17 Bethel students receiving vouchers for the 2016-2017 school year and 18 students receiving funding for the 2017-2018 school year.

In June 2019, Bethel filed a lawsuit against Maryland for the 2018 withdrawal of BOOST’s private Christian school because of its traditional views on sexuality and gender.

The problem was the school’s official textbook defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman and requiring students and faculty to use facilities that match their biological sex rather than any preferred gender identity.

Matthew Gallagher, chairman of an advisory board that oversees the good guys, told Bethel his policies were discriminatory.

“A non-heterosexual student can reasonably view the policy as a policy that allows for denial of admission, discipline or expulsion on the basis of their sexual orientation,” Gallagher said, as quoted by The Baltimore Sun.

“Therefore, the Council concluded that this policy, on its face, was in conflict with the non-discrimination clause contained in the… law. “

In 2020, Gallagher initially denied Bethel a preliminary injunction against the ban on the voucher program.

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