Want to get through college cheaper and faster?
That’s a no-brainer for many high school students and their parents, especially with the rising cost of college tuition. And that’s exactly why dual enrollment programs exist. They allow high school students to take free college courses and receive both high school and college credit.
But not all students are welcome to participate in this program… at least not if they attend a private religious school in Vermont.
That’s why some families decided to take action and file a lawsuit against the state. And, thankfully, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit halted the unfair treatment of students at religious schools.
Here are the details.
Who: Students at Private Religious Schools in Vermont
In certain districts, high school students in public schools, secular private schools, and homeschool can participate in Vermont’s dual enrollment program. This allows them to explore subjects they might be interested in pursuing in college and even to get ahead in their college course work.
But students at religious private schools are excluded.
That means a student from a secular private school and a student from a religious private school could dual-enroll in the exact same college course, but only the secular private school could be eligible to receive public funding for that course.
Does that sound fair to you?
What: A.H. v. French (formerly A.M. v. French)
The government can’t treat people of faith as second-class citizens and exclude them from generally available public benefits. When the government allows secular private schools to participate in the dual enrollment program but excludes religious private schools, it discriminates against religious students. That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) filed a lawsuit on behalf of two students, their parents, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington in Vermont.
Students who attend a religious school should be allowed to participate in this program on the same terms as everyone else. Anything less is unconstitutional.
When: January 2019 – Present
ADF filed a lawsuit against the State of Vermont in January 2019. In May 2019, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a statement of interest in the case, supporting the principle that students should have every opportunity to pursue their educational goals – even if they attend religious private schools.
On August 5, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit halted Vermont's discrimination against students who attend religious schools while the case continues. The 2nd Circuit relied on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which said that states cannot discriminate when distributing public scholarship money for school tuition.
On January 15, 2021, the 2nd Circuit also granted a preliminary injunction in this case, stopping Vermont officials from excluding religious-school students from the state's Dual Enrollment program.
Vermont established its dual enrollment program in 2013 to “promote opportunities for Vermont students to achieve postsecondary readiness through high-quality educational experiences that acknowledge individual goals, learning styles, and abilities.”
Why: To ensure the state can’t treat religious people and organizations worse than everyone else
As the Supreme Court said in Trinity Lutheran, such discrimination on the part of the state is “odious to our Constitution… and cannot stand.”
We are simply asking that the state of Vermont treat students at religious high schools equally and give them the same opportunities as public school students. That shouldn’t be too much to ask.
The Bottom Line
People of faith are not second-class citizens, and the government cannot treat them as such.
Now families in Vermont who want their children to receive an education at a religious school can do so on the same basis as other families.
This is the third in a series of blog posts that will outline how some key courtroom victories helped protect freedom in five critical areas.
The government cannot treat people of faith as second-class citizens. Yet, that’s exactly what Oregon was doing.