Why does the Religious Right think it is entitled to use taxpayer money to discriminate against LGBT people, and when are we going to put an end to the special treatment that enables these acts?
It has been revealed that at least 115 private religious schools in Georgia that are receiving public money through a special state scholarship program are operating policies where they expel or fire LGBT students or teachers. The 2008 tax credit program has meant that over the last four years, the state has funneled more than $170 million in taxpayer funds into scholarships for students attending private schools, and yet those schools are allowed to go on discriminating against kids per the institutions’ so-called religious morality.
A report by Southern Education fund says that while 115 schools have such explicit anti-gay policies, the depth and breadth of the problem is much greater because a wider number of recipient schools would also appear to have softer but still anti-gay policies and, perhaps even more disturbing, curricula that specifically condemns homosexuality and gay relationships.
For instance, Augusta Christian School policy declares “Each student of the school shall be of the highest moral character and be obedient to all Biblical principles, including, but not limited to, prohibitions against fornication, drug use, alcohol use, pornography and homosexuality– The school reserves the right to dismiss any student with or without cause.”
One pauses to wonder what stance the school would take on stoning a woman to death, but we digress.
The report adduces a variety of other examples, including policies at the Cumberland Christian Academy and Cherokee Christian Schools, the latter of which it should be noted carries a provision in its guidebook that says if you merely wonder out loud whether you’re gay — or more to the point, if you seek help over conflicted feelings about your sexuality — you can promptly be ejected.
Furthermore, there is evidence that the accreditation agencies themselves are being given a free license to discriminate. The Georgia Association of Christian Schools, an accrediting agency given the rubber stamp by the state of Georgia to approve schools so they can participate in the tax credit program, does itself label homosexuality a “sinful perversion of God’s gift of sex.”
The report argues that through this accreditation program, the state administration is giving religious conservative schools a tax-payer funded license to “punish, denounce, and even demonize students in the name of religion solely because they are gay, state that they are homosexual, happen to have same-sex parents or guardians, or express support or tolerance for gay students at school, away from school, or at home.”
Were a public school to do this, even in Georgia where gay rights protections do not exist, it would immediately be vulnerable to a legal challenge. But this isn’t going to stop any time soon. The New York Times reports that State Representative Earl Ehrhart (R) is zealously pushing in this legislative session to increase the amount of state money allocated each year for such scholarships.
This isn’t an isolated example of the Religious Right believing it can do what it likes with taxpayer funds.
In Colorado, for instance, where lawmakers are pushing a civil unions bill, Catholic adoption agencies that receive taxpayer funds have already threatened to leave the state, saying they will not serve gay couples in civil unions because it is against their religious teaching.
They have argued that civil unions are not a marriage — yes, we are aware — and that they simply will not recognize them. Should the bill pass and they not be given special exemptions, a spokesperson has made it known they will instead close their doors. Punishing children for groundless ideological differences is beyond petty, but it is not new.
Catholic Charities, of course, made the exact same threat in Illinois in previous years but lost a legal challenge wherein it argued it should be given a special exemption from the law.
We can also turn to the swathes of states where, in the lead up to the November ballot, churches that get massive tax breaks were openly and forcefully politicking against marriage equality and, in fact, President Obama, and yet have so far dodged any kind of consequence.
As to why the Religious Right continues to use taxpayer funds to discriminate, the pithy answer is because America continues to allow it to do so out of a false sense of deference and a fear of the shrill and hollow charge of religious discrimination — there is no right to use taxpayer funds to discriminate in this manner and it is paramount that at every level we fight this unethical privilege the Religious Right has been allowed to accumulate.
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