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E.W. v. French

Description:  Two high school students, their parents, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington filed a federal lawsuit against Vermont officials for discriminating against students and denying them a tuition benefit because they attend a religious high school.


Vermont state flag
Friday, Feb 25, 2022

BURLINGTON, Vt. – Alliance Defending Freedom attorneys representing two high school students, their parents, and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, Vermont filed a federal lawsuit against officials in Vermont Thursday for discriminating against students and denying them a tuition benefit because they attend a religious high school.

“For more than two decades, Vermont has been unlawfully targeting religious schools, essentially eliminating school choice for many parents in the state. Vermont is pushing out religious schools from receiving education benefits that are available to public and private schools, in violation of our clients’ First Amendment rights,” said ADF Legal Counsel Paul Schmitt. “When the state offers parents school choice, it cannot take away choices that are deemed ‘too religious.’ The U.S. Supreme Court’s Espinoza decision reaffirmed as much and built on its decision in the ADF case Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer. And now, the Supreme Court is deliberating on another important case, Carson v. Makin, involving similar issues. It is critical the court respects religious freedom in education so parents are able to send their children to schools that are the best fit for them.”

Vermont maintains a Town Tuition Program, which provides a tuition benefit for students who live in towns without public schools. These towns directly pay the full amount of tuition, up to the town’s approved tuition rate, on behalf of their students to attend either a public school in another district or an approved private school. But in the Barstow Unified Union School District, officials denied the Williams family’s tuition request to Rutland’s Mount St. Joseph Academy, operated by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, despite the Supreme Court’s Espinoza decision.

ADF attorneys filed E.W. v. French in the U.S. District Court for the District of Vermont.

ADF attorneys have filed two other similar lawsuits, A.M. v. French and A.H. v. French, that also challenge discrimination against religious schools in Vermont’s education programs. In both cases, a federal appeals court stopped Vermont officials from excluding religious-school students from the state’s programs, which allowed students at public and private secular schools to participate. Even after Catholic families and the Diocese won injunctive relief in A.H. v. French, government officials in Vermont have refused to grant equal Town Tuition Program access to religious schools and their students.

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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ABOUT Paul Schmitt

Paul Schmitt serves as legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is a member of the Center for Christian Ministries. Prior to joining ADF, Schmitt clerked for the Honorable Michael S. Kanne on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit and litigated as an associate attorney at Ice Miller LLP in Indianapolis. He also served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force for more than four years, working in military satellite communications. Schmitt received his law degree magna cum laude from the University of Illinois College of Law in 2017. During law school, Paul externed with the Illinois 4th District Appellate Court and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the Family. He also completed the ADF leadership development program to become a Blackstone Fellow. He received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2009, and served the Urbana campus on the University’s board of trustees. Paul is admitted to the state bars of Illinois and Indiana, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and the Northern and Southern districts of Indiana.