Baltimore, Md., Nov 27, 2019 / 11:30 am
The United States Department of Justice on Tuesday filed a statement of interest in support of a Christian school in Maryland that says it was banned from a voucher program due to its religious beliefs.
The DOJ said it found no evidence that the school had discriminated against students or violated the rules for religious schools set forth by the voucher program.
Bethel Ministries, an ecclesial community that runs Bethel Christian Academy, filed a lawsuit in June against the Maryland Department of Education, after the department disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) voucher program, which benefits low-income students.
The school claims it was disqualified from the program on account of its religious beliefs in Christian marriage and sexuality, stated in its handbook. The handbook was reviewed by the state’s department of education before the school was banned from the program.
Bethel is a kindergarten through eighth-grade academy with a diverse student population of 85% non-white students, according to the DOJ. It had participated in the BOOST program since the 2016-2017 school year.
Earlier this month, a federal district court judge denied Maryland's motion to dismiss the school’s lawsuit.
In its Nov. 26 statement, the DOJ said, “The United States is resolutely committed to protecting the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. The First Amendment enshrines both the right to ‘the free exercise’ of religion and ‘the freedom of speech’ at the bedrock of the Nation’s constitutional system. These freedoms lie at the heart of a free society and are the ‘effectual guardian of every other right.’”
The DOJ also noted that it has an interest in enforcing Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, “which allows the Attorney General to file suit when a school board deprives children of equal protection of the law, or when a public college excludes persons based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” The department stated that it found Bethel Christian Academy does not discriminate against its students and that the school’s lawsuit was likely to succeed on the grounds of freedom of speech and freedom of religion.