Wednesday, June 02, 2021

2nd Circuit: Vermont Town Tuition Program Cannot Exclude Parochial Schools

 In A.H. v. French, (2d Cir., June 2, 2021), the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals filed its opinion explaining its Feb. 3, 2021 Order granting a petition for a writ of mandamus.  At issue was Vermont's refusal to allow students attending religious schools to participate in the state's Town Tuition Program. School districts that do not operate their own high schools must pay tuition costs for students in their district to attend another public high school or an approved non-religious private high school. The Second Circuit held that the exclusion of religious high schools from the program violates the First Amendment, saying in part:

Four years ago, the Supreme Court reminded states that it “has repeatedly confirmed that denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest of the highest order.” Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.... Last June, the Court clarified that this rule does not allow a state to apply a state constitutional prohibition on aid to religion that would “bar[] religious schools from public benefits solely because of the religious character of the schools.” Espinoza v. Mont. Dep't of Revenue.... The Court emphasized that “[s]tatus-based discrimination remains status based even if one of its goals or effects is preventing religious organizations from putting aid to religious uses”....

Judge Menashi filed a concurring opinion.