Maine Court Refuses to Enjoin State In Conflict With Christian Schools
A group of Christian schools has lost the first round of a legal battle to prevent the state of Maine from obtaining information on its students, teachers, and courses.
But U.S. District Court Judge Conrad Cyr has told state education officials not to take any action against the schools until he rules on whether his court has the right to review the issue.
State law requires the education department to review school records for health and safety violations, curriculum standards, and teacher competency. Some Christian schools refused to turn over the records, and then, when the state threatened legal action, decided to take legal action themselves to contest the legality of the mandate.
Restraining Order Requested
The Maine Association of Christian Schools claims in its suit against the state's education department that the U.S. Constitution protects its members against "state licensing of religious activity." It asked Judge Cyr for a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from obtaining the records, a move the judge rejected in a decision on Oct. 19.
Maine Education Commissioner Harold Raynolds Jr. said nine Christian schools had refused to provide state education officials with education and health records in compliance with state law and were given until Oct. 20 to do so or else face prosecution by the state attorney general's office.
But, prior to the deadline, the Maine Association of Christian Schools, headed by the Rev6erend Herman C. Frankland, filed suit alleging that the education department's request was a violation of the First, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution.
State Attorney General James E. Tierney said the state has asked the judge to determine whether the association has "standing" in federal court to bring suit on behalf of the Christian schools.
Mr. Tierney said additional information has been requested from the association's attorney and the question of standing has not been resolved by Judge Cyr. Three of the schools have since complied with the education department's request and six of the schools have not. Five of the six schools still withholding the information are members of the association.
Mr. Raynolds said the five schools connected with Mr. Frankland's organization have never received state approval and state officials have very little information about them. Mr. Frankland said the five schools have been in operation for at least two years and served an estimated 200 students. He said the association represents 17 schools with 1,052 enrolled students.
The association's lawsuit, according to Mr. Frankland, is an attempt to "run interference" to keep the state from "picking on the little schools."
Mr. Raynolds said the state was not threatening to close the schools. But he said the attorney general's office could have taken the Christian schools to court to force them to provide the information.--S.G.F.