ADF files motion in Christian school's federal lawsuit

Friday, November 1, 2019
Chris Woodward, Billy Davis (

gavel with Bible 2A small Christian academy that filed suit against the State of Maryland earlier this year is asking the court to rule against the state’s financial demand.

Bethel Christian Academy filed a federal lawsuit in July with the help of Alliance Defending Freedom, claiming the state is discriminating against its right to religious freedom by dropping Bethel from a voucher program for low-income children.

Not only did state officials drop Bethel from participating in the BOOST vouchers, the state was demanding the school reimburse $106,000 in past voucher funds by the time the school filed its discrimination lawsuit.

ADF attorney Christiana Holcomb tells OneNewsNow the motion filed Oct. 31 asks the court to stop Maryland officials from taking action against Bethel while the lawsuit proceeds.

"Essentially what the state of Maryland has done,” Holcomb alleges, “is excluded Bethel from a state voucher program simply because it dislikes Bethel's religious beliefs about marriage and human sexuality.”

Such an accusation is not in dispute. The Baltimore Sun reported in a July story that education leaders reviewed Bethel’s handbook that states faculty, staff, and students are “required to identify with, dress in accordance with, and use the facilities associated with their biological gender.”

A voucher advisory board considered that language discriminatory, the Sun story explained, so Bethel became one of 22 schools with “questionable language” in their rules and guidelines. The story went on:

Nine of those schools were ruled ineligible. Another 10 schools were disqualified and required to refund payments they had already received from the state. Of those 10 schools, six revised the language in their handbook and were approved to participate.

According to Holcomb, Bethel does in fact hold to biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality, but the school has not and will not turn down a student based on sexual orientation, she says. 

"Unfortunately,” the ADF attorney says, “that was not good enough for the state of Maryland, and the state of Maryland decided to kick Bethel out of the program anyway."


Meanwhile, Holcomb says the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2017 in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer that the government cannot exclude religious groups from a government program.  

What began as a lawsuit over a scrap-tire playground program in Missouri became a landmark religious rights case, since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 that the government can’t exclude a religious school from a public benefit only because of its religious beliefs.

“And that's exactly what the state of Maryland has done in Bethel's case,” Holcomb claims.

Much like the Maryland voucher program, the nation's highest court has also ruled in a state scholarship program, however. A 2004 decision found the state of Washington did not discriminate by turning down students who were seeking a degree in theology. That case, Locke v Davey, was a 7-2 ruling that justices studied in their Trinity Lutheran case. 


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