The Supreme Court Can Let Religious Schools Take Taxpayers Money. Former student said it was a mistake

The end of high school was one of the worst periods in Noelle Shamlian’s life. In the spring of 2019, Shamlian, who was identified as non-bi and bisexual, was just two months after graduating from Bangor Christian School — a private K-12 religious school in Bangor, Maine — when a Classmates report them to management as strangers.

Twenty-year-old Shamlian was closed at the time and knew that going out could mean expulsion from the school they had attended since their sophomore year. So when they were called to the principal’s office in April 2019 and asked if they were bisexual, they were terrified.

Shamlian says the principal told them that since they were so close to graduation, they wouldn’t be expelled — as long as they didn’t tell anyone they were weird. The school also offered to provide “counseling to deal with sexual struggles,” Shamlian alleges, and said it wished Shamlian had talked about their “problem” sooner so they could get help. . (Shamlian believes that school is meant to be conversion therapy, which has been banned in at least 20 states because it is discriminatory, harmful to children, and widely discredited.)
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“I said, ‘Well, I can be a Christian and be gay.’ And [the principal] say, ‘No, that’s not true. You can’t,” Shamlian alleges.

“Then they left me alone in my room, crying,” Shamlian added. “It was pretty horrifying.”

The principal of Bangor Christian School declined to comment on Shamlian’s allegations when reached by TIME.

The story behind Carson and Makin

Bangor Christian School is currently one of only two legally listed religious schools The battle has come to the US Supreme Court after a group of parents sued Maine for excluding schools that offer religious education from a tuition assistance program for students in communities without a public high school. Under the program, families in rural areas can receive public funds to send their children to their approved public or private schools, but not to schools that offer religious education. .

Plaintiffs in Carson and Makin– including Amy and David Carson, who wanted to use the program to send their daughters to Bangor Christian School – argued that the policy violated their constitutional right to practice religion, and in oral arguments On December 8, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority appeared prepared to agree with them. But the ability of the Supreme Court to allow taxpayer funding to flow into religious schools worries two former students TIME spoke with, who say the environment of Bangor Christian School promotes negative attitudes. extreme towards LGBTQ people and make them feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

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At Bangor Christian School, openly gay students are considered to engage in “immoral activity” and may be suspended or expelled because of their gender or gender identity, and the school does not hire transgender or gay teachers, according to a briefed by Maine officials.

Maria Taylor, a graduate student at the University of Maine, said: “Grading high school would never be an option unless I intentionally wanted to leave because it would be so short until I did. you get kicked out of school. from Bangor Christian in 2019 and was identified as weird.

Taylor, Shamlian’s friend and former classmate, said she and Shamlian had both been reported to school administrators about a false rumor that they were having an affair. Taylor was not with Shamlian during the meeting with the principal but said that Shamlian told her what the principal said during that meeting.

“The fear of losing all your friends or losing your place at the school you have attended for so many years is so great and insurmountable that the thought of going out or expressing or discovering who you are. your true self, your true self. Taylor said.

Shamlian alleges that the students were taught in some classes that LGBTQ people are sinners and said they spent a senior year in Bible class instilling in students the idea that God created the bisexual. and transgender people need to pray and prevent transgenderism.

“Grading out of high school has never even been an option unless I intentionally left school, because there will be a very short time until you get expelled.” “I’m at an age where I realize I’m weird and try to explore my gender and identity,” says Shamlian. “I was scared a lot. I felt very alone and unsupported…it was extremely difficult.”

Maria Taylor
Courteous Maria TaylorMaria Taylor, a graduate of Bangor Christian School, said graduation was not an option.

Taylor says she also wants her high school to be a more inclusive environment for LGBTQ students and other minorities.

“I think that will make a world of difference. Taylor, 20, says: “I always think about how different it would have been if I had been an adult. for a space where I could do it safely as a minor. “

The Discrimination Debate

In oral arguments for Carson and Makin, the plaintiffs and the state of Maine contested whether state policy violated the religious provisions or equal protection provisions of the United States Constitution. And some judges were sympathetic to the plaintiffs’ discriminatory claims of religion.

“Discrimination against all religions in itself versus secular is a type of discrimination that the court has said violates the Constitution, at least in certain contexts,” Justice said. Brett Kavanaugh said. Chief Justice John Roberts also questioned whether Maine “discriminates between religions on the basis of their beliefs.”

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Christopher Taub, Maine’s deputy attorney general, has pushed back against claims that the state is discriminating against religious families. “They are not discriminated against. They are simply not being offered a benefit that no other family in Maine is entitled to,” he said.

He added: “Not a single school that propagates religious beliefs is eligible for our program. “We want schools not to be for or against any particular religion.”

Although LGTBQ discrimination was not directly litigated in this case, some of the more liberal justices of the Supreme Court have raised questions about discrimination in the schools mentioned in this case. lawsuit.

“These schools are clearly discriminatory. They proudly discriminate,” said Justice Elena Kagan. “Others won’t understand why in the world their tax dollars go to discriminatory schools.”

“Is it possible to say to a school, ‘You must admit all students and not discriminate on the basis of sex, color, religion? “Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked. “Is this program allowed to say that, for students, if they meet your academic requirements, you cannot discriminate?”



Bangor Christian School
Gabor Degre — The Bangor Daily / APOlivia Carson and her mother, Amy Carson, in front of Bangor Christian School in Bangor, Maine, on August 28, 2018. The Carsons are plaintiffs in a lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court that could allow the religious schools, such as Bangor Christian, to receive tax payments.

In her defense, Maine pointed to the Maine Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, arguing that “acceptance of public funds would result in a substantial change in method. [the two schools] activities,” including that they will “likely” not be able to refuse to hire gay people anymore. Bangor Christian said it would not accept money from Maine’s tuition program if it meant changing its policies, including hiring and hiring practices, according to Maine filings.

During the Supreme Court arguments, Michael Bindas, a senior attorney for the Institute of Justice who represents the plaintiffs, argued that religious employers are exempt under the Maine Human Rights Act. in hiring decisions and says LGBTQ discrimination is a separate issue. Justice Neil Gorsuch seems to agree. “We were not called on today to interpret Maine’s anti-discrimination laws, and we didn’t have to do that to decide this case,” Gorsuch said.

When asked specifically about the former students’ statements, Bindas told TIME that the case was about discrimination based on religion. “Maine’s religious exclusion prohibits families from choosing religious schools, including those that welcome LGBTQ students,” says Bindas. In doing so, he said, it leads to “discrimination that reduces opportunities for all students, including LGBTQ students.”

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But LGBTQ rights advocates worry that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs could pave the way for taxpayer money to go to schools that discriminate against LGBTQ students and school staff.

“We strongly believe that public taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize schools that prohibit segregation,” said Aaron Ridings, public policy director for GLSEN, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights in schools. discrimination. and anti-bullying measures.

“Every teenager, no matter where they live, can feel safe going to school,” says Ridings. “That’s the bare minimum and they should be able to reach their full potential and do everything they want to achieve in life without fear or feeling unsafe at school.”

Shamlian agrees and says that the state does not need to support education that is not available to all students.

More than anything, Shamlian worries that such a school environment could be dangerous. They feel lucky to have another gay friend at school to share their feelings with.

“If someone doesn’t have that person, I would really fear for their life and safety, because that’s not an environment that supports your mental health,” says Shamlian. “It was an unsafe, violent environment…. And I worry about current and future students. ” The Supreme Court Can Let Religious Schools Take Taxpayers Money. Former student said it was a mistake

Aila Slisco

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