A legal group that defends religious rights is fighting the State of Vermont over a pre-college program that excludes students who attend religious schools.
With help from Alliance Defending Freedom, Catholic high school students, their parents, and a Roman Catholic diocese filed suit in January because the Dual Enrollment Program excludes students such as those attending Rice Memorial High in Burlington.
The program allows students to take college courses, helping them prepare for a secondary education, but it excludes religious school students even though it enrolls students in public schools and secular private schools.
After the plaintiffs sued in January, the state asked the federal court to dismiss the lawsuit at an August 1 hearing. ADF argued for the lawsuit to proceed and both sides are now awaiting a ruling.
ADF attorney Christen Price tells OneNewsNow the state “categorically excludes” students at religious private schools.
“Even though,” she says, “the government is constitutionally required to treat religious people equally."
If the lawsuit is allowed to go forward by court, and the court rules in the students' favor, Price says that decision could have far-reaching effects.
"It would reinforce the principle that the Supreme Court held in Trinity Lutheran,” she advises, “which is that people of faith shouldn't be treated like second-class citizens. The government isn't being neutral when it treats religious school students as less than equal."
In May, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the Vermont case in support of the students and the diocese.