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Regulating Private Schools Is Subject of Maine Lawsuit

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Bangor, Me--Testimony began last week and continues this week in a federal trial testing the constitutionality of Maine's education laws as they apply to private fundamentalist Christian schools.

Because Bangor Baptist Church and Maine Association of Christian Schools v. State of Maine is the first case of its kind to reach the trial stage on the federal level, it is being watched by operators of private schools, the legal community, and other states.

In similar state courts' trials over the past two years, states that exerted their legal obligation to enforce compulsory state education laws won about half the cases.

All Children Aged 7 to 17

Specifically at issue are the state's assertion that it must enforce its compulsory-education law for all children in Maine aged 7 to 17 regardless of where they go to school and the church group's contention that its freedom from regulation is guaranteed under the First, Ninth, and 14th Amendments of the U.S Constitution.

The group is represented by William Ball and Philip Murren, the constitutional law specialists from Harrisburg, Pa., who argued four cases previously won by church-school groups.

Mr. Ball told U.S. District Judge Conrad K. Cyr that "schools which the state does not fund, it cannot found."

'A Religious War'

In the only expert testimony heard during the first few days of the trial, Rousaf J. Rushdoony, author of 30 books, former missionary, and now president of what Newsweek calls a religious "think tank" in Vallecito, Calif., called the case "a religious war." He said the main function of the church is to teach. As the fundamentalist movement matured, he said, it sought as its purpose "to further the separation of the child from the world and place him closer to the church."

Although the plaintiffs said it was part of their religious conviction to reject all government licensing as an infringement of the First Amendment religious freedoms, the Rev. Herman Frankland, pastor of the Bangor Baptist Church and leader of the church schools in the suit, said he obtained a Federal Communications Commission license to operate a local radio station for his church. The Rev. Harry Boyle of Portland testified that he also sought and obtained a state license for his church's nursery school last year.

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