The state of Vermont has a history of discriminating against faith-based schools. From excluding Rice Memorial High School and their students from its tuition assistance program because they were religious to barring access to its Dual Enrollment Program for students at those schools, Vermont has repeatedly violated the First Amendment.
Now, despite a federal appeals court victory and a U.S. Supreme Court decision just one year ago ruling that Maine’s similar actions violated the First Amendment, Vermont is once again punishing a Christian school because of its beliefs. Alliance Defending Freedom is defending religious freedom in Vermont in the face of a new but related threat.
Who is Mid Vermont Christian School?
Mid Vermont Christian School is a private, Christian, pre-K through 12th-grade school in Quechee, Vermont. The school exists “to glorify God by preparing students for college and for life through a program of academic excellence established in Biblical truth.”
Mid Vermont Christian is a highly respected school that has excelled in both academics and athletics, and many families send their children to the school for these reasons. But the state is now excluding Mid Vermont Christian from its Town Tuitioning Program and from competing in middle school and high school sports because of the school’s religious beliefs.
Religious discrimination rears its head
In Vermont, not all school districts operate public high schools. Instead, some districts use public funds from the state’s Town Tuitioning Program to pay for students to attend either private schools or other public schools in nearby districts.
The Vermont State Board of Education decides which schools will be included in the Town Tuitioning Program, and it maintains educational quality and curriculum requirements that schools must meet to qualify.
While religious schools were previously excluded from the tuitioning program, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled in 2021 that Vermont could not exclude schools because they were religious. Following this ruling and a Supreme Court decision about a similar tuition program in Maine, Vermont began including religious schools such as Mid Vermont Christian in its program.
But in May 2022, Vermont finalized rule changes requiring schools in the tuitioning program to comply with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act and Fair Employment Practices Act, both of which prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
In practice, the rule change would require Mid Vermont Christian to violate its beliefs by allowing males into female bathrooms and locker rooms, changing its policies regarding biblical marriage and dress codes, hiring those who do not share and live out its religious beliefs, using pronouns that are inconsistent with reality, and more.
Mid Vermont Christian cannot violate its beliefs, so it asked for a religious exemption. But Vermont refused, and the state is now excluding the school from the Town Tuitioning Program.
Benched for its beliefs
In addition to excluding Mid Vermont Chrisitan from the Town Tuitioning Program, the state has excluded it from middle school and high school sports. The largest sports association for middle and high schools in the state is called the Vermont Principals’ Association (VPA), and it has expelled Mid Vermont Christian, and then denied the school readmission, from all VPA sports and activities because of the school’s beliefs.
While the VPA historically separated boys’ and girls’ athletics and prevented boys from competing in girls’ sports “to protect opportunities for girl athletes,” it recently adopted a new policy. The policy requires Vermont schools like Mid Vermont Christian to assign athletes to teams based on their “gender identity” rather than their actual sex, and it forces female athletes to compete in athletic events against males.
As a Christian school, Mid Vermont Christian believes that men and women are different and that sex cannot be changed. M.G., a student enrolled at Mid Vermont Christian who competes on the varsity girls’ basketball team, also holds these beliefs. But the new policy would force M.G., Mid Vermont Christian, and many other students and their families to violate their beliefs.
As a result of the VPA’s policy, a male athlete who is over six feet tall was allowed to compete on the high school girls’ basketball team at the Long Trail School in Dorset, Vermont, during the 2022-23 season.
Mid Vermont Christian was matched up against Long Trail in the first round of the 2023 VPA Division 4 Girls State Basketball tournament. Because of Mid Vermont Christian’s beliefs about sexuality and gender and protecting athletes’ safety, the school asked the VPA that the male athlete not be allowed to play against its varsity girls basketball team.
The VPA denied the request, so Mid Vermont Christian chose to forfeit the game instead of violating its beliefs and sacrificing students’ safety. Shortly thereafter, the VPA announced it would immediately suspend Mid Vermont Christian from competing in all sports and activities.
The VPA first failed to provide Mid Vermont Christian with a notice of alleged violations, thereby ignoring its own policies. And then the VPA submitted testimony hostile to the school’s beliefs to the Vermont legislature. Mid Vermont Christian appealed its expulsion internally at the VPA, but to no avail.
Defending religious freedom
In November 2023, ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit against Vermont officials for excluding Mid Vermont Christian from the tuitioning program and state sports due to its beliefs.
Religious schools and their families should not have to abandon their religious beliefs and practices to participate in public benefits programs. Female athletes should not be forced to compete against males, and state agencies cannot force religious schools to violate their beliefs to be included in a public benefits program like other schools
A win for Mid Vermont Christian would ensure that religious schools in Vermont can operate consistent with their religious beliefs about sexuality and gender without facing government punishment.
- May 2022: Vermont finalized rule changes requiring schools to comply with the Vermont Public Accommodations Act and Fair Employment Practices Act to participate in the Town Tuitioning Program.
- Spring 2023: The state refused to grant Mid Vermont Christian School an exemption allowing it to participate in Town Tuitioning Program.
- May 2023: The VPA’s Activity Standards Committee denied Mid Vermont Christian’s appeal of its expulsion.
- August 2023: Vermont’s Agency of Education confirmed Mid Vermont Christian’s denial as an approved independent school, making it ineligible for the state’s tuitioning program
- September 2023: Mid Vermont Christian sought readmission to the VPA, but the VPA requested the school explain how it would comply with the VPA’s gender identity policies.
- November 2023: ADF attorneys filed a lawsuit on behalf of Mid Vermont Christian.