A Maine church has filed a federal lawsuit against a nearby school district after the school board refused a six-month lease to the church for meeting space, allegedly because the congregation holds to historic Christian views of sexuality and abortion.
The Pines Church and pastor Matt Gioia are named as plaintiffs in the suit against the Hermon School Department in Bangor, Maine, filed May 23 in United States District Court by Advocates for Faith & Freedom and the Conley and Wyrick law firm.
According to the suit, The Pines Church was planted in 2021 and experienced rapid growth, outgrowing its meeting space in a movie theater in nearby Orono, Maine. Last November, amid negotiations to lease space at Hermon High School, the school board began asking questions about the church’s beliefs, particularly its views on “gay marriage, abortion, conversion therapy, gender reassignment treatment, and sexual education for youth.”
“The Committee’s questions were inappropriate and not germane to whether TPC qualifies for a lease. Indeed, upon information and belief, the Committee has not asked these questions to similarly situated secular entities and activities who have leased its facilities,” the suit claims.
“The implications of the Committee’s questions are clear; unless TPC affirms HSD’s religious and political beliefs, the Committee will not support TPC’s lease proposal.”
According to the Bangor News, the school board had suggested a monthly lease of $600 but the church even offered $1,000 a month as a show of good faith, hoping to secure at least a six-month lease. When the school board offered only a month-to-month lease to see if the church’s use of the facility “negatively affects the school community,” negotiations broke down.
The Pines Church describes itself as nondenominational and “orthodox” in its beliefs on Scripture, salvation by faith in Jesus Christ alone, and on questions of human sexuality—views that “most Christian churches have faithfully maintained for the past two thousand years,” the suit states.
“Public institutions that seek to lease their facilities for revenue should not be able to discriminate based on religious or political conviction,” Mariah Gondeiro, vice president and legal counsel of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, told The Daily Signal in a statement.
According to The Daily Signal, Chris McLaughlin, a school board member who includes personal pronouns in his signature, told the pastor he “wanted to get a better sense of how The Pines Church approaches issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion and around their messaging around some key issues relevant to marginalized communities.”
“Is The Pines Church receptive of same-sex marriages? Do they consider marriage only to be between 1 man and 1 woman?” McLaughlin asked.
McLaughlin allegedly asked more questions about the congregation’s views on abortion, conversion therapy, and minors’ access to birth control.
Gioia, the pastor, told The Daily Signal: “We are understandably disappointed with the process in which we had to go through, but we are not discouraged. We have seen the Lord move through our church and grow our community so much since our founding. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue our worship and fellowship without discrimination.”