BURLINGTON, Vt. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing Mid Vermont Christian School and two families filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Vermont officials for denying the Christian school and its students from participating in the state’s tuition program and sports league because of their religious beliefs.
Vermont, through its Agency of Education and Vermont Principals’ Association, requires private, religious schools like Mid Vermont Christian to adopt the state’s view on human sexuality and gender—namely, that sex is mutable and biological differences do not matter—as a condition to participate in the state’s tuition program and athletic association. Doing so violates the First Amendment rights of Mid Vermont Christian, its students and families, and other faith-based schools by preventing them from practicing their religious beliefs about sexuality and gender.
“Vermont has an infamous record of discriminating against religious schools and families, whether it be withholding generally available public funding or denying them membership in the state’s sports league because they hold religious beliefs that differ from the state’s preferred views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries. “The state’s unlawful exclusion of Mid Vermont Christian from participating in the tuition program and athletic association is the latest example of state officials trampling on constitutionally protected rights. And egregiously, Vermont continues its blatant discrimination against religious schools despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Carson v. Makin that the government cannot exclude families from public benefits just because they choose religious education for their children.”
Mid Vermont Christian is a faith-based pre-K-12 school located in Quechee whose religious beliefs drive and form the foundation for everything it does. Vermont’s Agency of Education refused to designate Mid Vermont Christian as an approved independent school because of its religious beliefs, which means the school cannot participate in the state’s Town Tuitioning Program. Vermont’s Town Tuitioning Program pays for students residing in school districts that do not operate public high schools to attend an approved private school of the students’ choice. However, the agency’s refusal to grant Mid Vermont Christian approved independent status caused the Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union and Orange East Supervisory Union to recoup tuition payments initially sent to the school.
Additionally, the VPA kicked Mid Vermont Christian out of the state’s athletic association because the school operates its own athletic program consistent with its religious beliefs about sexuality and gender. Although VPA has historically prohibited boys from playing on girls’ sports teams “to protect opportunities for girl athletes,” it recently adopted policies that allow biological males to participate in girls’ sports and is demanding Mid Vermont Christian adhere to those policies, even though they violate the school’s religious beliefs. The VPA refuses to let the school back in unless it capitulates and agrees to force its girls to compete against biological males and to let males on its own girls’ teams.
When the Christian school reluctantly forfeited a girls’ high school basketball game against a team that had a male athlete playing for them, the VPA kicked Mid Vermont Christian out of the association. Now, despite 28 years of prior participation in the league, the school cannot compete in any VPA athletics, effectively blacklisting the school from all state-sponsored events in the state, including VPA spring sports for which schools are still creating schedules. The VPA is going so far as to exclude Mid Vermont Christian and its students from participating in co-ed academic competitions like the Geo-Bee, Science and Math Fair, and Debate and Forensics League, all because the school believes biological differences between boys and girls matter.
“The students who choose to attend Mid Vermont Christian are currently losing out on valuable tuition reimbursement and being excluded from playing competitive sports and participating in academic competitions, including the Goodwin and Slarve children, whom we represent in this case,” said ADF Legal Counsel Jake Reed. “Vermont, through its education agency and sports association, has engaged in unconstitutional discrimination by requiring a Christian school and its students to surrender their religious beliefs and practices in order to receive public funds and compete in sports.”
Vermont continues to discriminate against families who choose to send their children to religious schools even after ADF attorneys favorably settled two lawsuits in December 2022 on behalf of several families and the Diocese of Burlington who sued state officials for discriminating against students and denying them the tuition benefit because they attended religious schools. As part of the settlement in those cases, E.W. v. French and A.H. v. French, Vermont officials agreed to apply the state’s tuition benefit program fairly.
ADF attorneys filed the lawsuit, Mid Vermont Christian School v. Bouchey, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont. Michael Tierney and Gretchen Wade are serving as local counsel in the case.
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization committed to protecting religious freedom, free speech, parental rights, and the sanctity of life.
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