VICTORY: Federal appeals court rules in favor of Vermont parochial school student
In fall 2020, the state of Vermont barred a parochial high school student from taking advantage of public funds for a dual enrollment program at the University of Vermont.
The Department of Justice under the Trump administraton alleged that the student’s First Amendment rights had been violated.
A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the student.
A federal court ruled in favor of a student who was barred from a program at the University of Vermont due to her attendance at a parochial school.
In August 2020, a student who attended a Roman Catholic high school applied for public funding to attend the University of Vermont through the state’s dual enrollment program, but was denied “solely because of her school’s religious status,” according to the United States Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Though a district court initially ruled against the student, an appeals court reversed the decision on January 15.
As Campus Reform previously reported, then-Attorney General William Barr’s Department of Justice filed a brief in favor of the student, arguing that Vermont violated the student’s First Amendment rights by excluding her from the program.
Alliance Defending Freedom — which filed an amicus brief on behalf of the student — celebrated the decision.
“Vermont officials can’t treat people of faith as second-class citizens by excluding them from generally available public benefits,” said ADF legal counsel Jake Warner. “When the government allows same-district students from public schools, secular private schools, and homeschools to participate in its dual enrollment program but excludes only students from religious private schools, it discriminates against religious students.”
According to Warner, the decision “levels the playing field by ensuring that Vermont parents and students who have chosen a faith-based education can enjoy the same publicly available opportunities as their neighbors.”
Warner, who argued the case before the Second Circuit, told Campus Reform that “the government cannot treat religious individuals as second-class citizens.”
“Governments, including in Vermont, may not create a public benefit program that excludes only religious-school students,” he explained. “That violates the First Amendment. Students should be encouraged by the Second Circuit’s decision in A.H. v. French because it will help ensure that all students have equal access to generally available public benefits.”
He added that the court’s opinion “should help guide other courts in ensuring that religious-school students enjoy equal access to generally available public benefits.”
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