Bethel Ministries v. Salmon

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Description:  Maryland officials revoked a church-run school’s eligibility to participate in a voucher program to benefit low-income students and demanded the school pay back thousands of dollars for previous participation in the program. Although the school fully complied with the program’s requirements, state officials disqualified Bethel from participating in the program after reading Bethel’s Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality, even though the school has not—and will not—turn down a student based on their sexual orientation. The school only simply asks students to refrain from engaging in any sexual conduct.


Christian school to court: Stop Maryland’s discrimination against our low-income students

ADF attorneys available to media following hearing Thursday
Wednesday, January 08, 2020

WHO: Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys

WHAT: Available for media interviews after hearing on motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of Baltimore-area Christian school

WHEN: Thursday, Jan. 9, after hearing, which begins 10 a.m. EST; please call (202) 734-8987 to book a specific interview time.

WHERE: U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Edward A. Garmatz U.S. District Courthouse, 101 West Lombard St., Baltimore; hearing in Courtroom 7C; media interviews will take place outside front entrance of courthouse.

 
BALTIMORE – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing a church-run grade school in the Baltimore area will be available for media interviews after a federal court hearing Thursday in their lawsuit against Maryland officials. The Christian school asked the court in June to intervene after state officials revoked the school’s eligibility to participate in a voucher program to benefit low-income students and demanded the school pay back over one hundred thousand dollars for previous participation in the program.

The school offers a faith-based education to more than 250 students in the Baltimore metro area, including students from over 40 different nations, children who recently immigrated to the United States, and families with different or no religious affiliations. While over 20% of the students receive some financial aid, many families were able to afford sending their children to the school because it participated in Maryland’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today school voucher program. In August 2018, just weeks before the school year started, Maryland officials abruptly notified families that they could no longer use their BOOST vouchers to educate their children at the school.

“The government may not discriminate against religious schools simply because it dislikes their religious beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “This Christian grade school offers an academically rigorous and caring education in a diverse environment, but Maryland has refused to play by its own rules, expelled the school from a government voucher program without just cause, and demanded the repayment of over $100,000—money that empowered the education of low-income students. Maryland’s families deserve better; that’s why we’re asking the court to stop the state from targeting and denying children scholarships simply based on the beliefs and policies set out in their school’s parent-student handbook.”

Maryland law forbids participating BOOST schools from discriminating in admissions on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things. When the church-run school applied to participate in the program, school officials truthfully stated that the school does not exclude students because of their sexual orientation. Sometime prior to the 2017-18 school year, the Maryland Department of Education started reviewing the websites of participating religious schools and demanding that those schools send in their student handbooks. MSDE subsequently disqualified the school from participating in the BOOST program after reading the school’s Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

In November, a federal court denied Maryland officials’ motion to dismiss the case. Later in the month, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest, in support of the school.
 
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
 
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Additional resources: Bethel Ministries v. Salmon

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Previous news releases:

  • 2019-11-26: DOJ files official support for MD Christian school banned from scholarship program
  • 2019-11-14: Court: MD Christian school’s religious discrimination lawsuit may continue
  • 2019-10-31: MD Christian school to court: Stop govt from demanding $100K from us for our beliefs
  • 2019-06-25: Maryland officials deny low-income kids school vouchers if they choose Christian school

Commentary:

  • Claire Dant: Md. school sues state for constitutional violations based on religious beliefs (Baltimore Sun, 2019-07-01)

Legal documents, related news, and other related resources available in the right panel when this page is viewed at ADFmedia.org.