Baltimore, Md., Nov 19, 2019 / 17:01 pm
A federal district court judge on Thursday denied Maryland's motion to dismiss a suit by a Christian school against the state superintendent of schools. The school complains it was barred from a voucher program because of its religious beliefs.
Bethel Ministries, an ecclesial community that runs Bethel Christian Academy, filed a suit in June against the Maryland Department of Education.
The education department last year disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today voucher program, which benefits low-income students.
The department had previously requested to see the student handbooks of schools in the program. Bethel’s handbook includes a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.
In making its decision, the Department of Education cited a state law forbidding BOOST schools from discriminating in the admissions process on sexual orientation.
“Bethel has plausibly alleged that Defendants violated several of its First and Fourteenth Amendment rights in the course of deeming the school ineligible for BOOST,” Stephanie Gallagher, a judge of the US District Court for the District of Maryland, wrote in her Nov. 14 ruling allowing Bethel's suit to go forward.
“Bethel has consistently maintained that the school does not discriminate in student admissions on the basis of sexual orientation,” she noted, adding that in correspondence with the BOOST advisory board, Bethel explained “that it does not consider sexual orientation or sexual attraction when evaluating applications for admission.”
“In fact, Defendants have not identified any student that Bethel has discriminated against in admissions on the basis of sexual orientation. As such, Bethel alleged in its complaint – which this Court accepts as true at this stage – that it 'has not, and will not, discriminate against a student in admissions based on an applicant’s sexual orientation.'”