Should government be able to fund religion? What really constitutes separation of church and state? These are questions that get asked over and over again, mostly through lawsuits defended by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans United, Alliance Defending Freedom and the American Center for Law and Justice, who each take up opposite sides of the issue in the courts.
Most often these organizations go head to head when it comes to religious liberty and public education, with numerous skirmishes over public prayer at schools, religious displays and other cases where taxpayer funding and the freedom to practice one’s religion struggle test each other’s limits. Keeping taxpayer-funded schools separate from religious expression has become a growing concern, however, as more state legislatures have been creating voucher programs, which essentially take money for public education and funnel it to non-public schools. Included among these schools are some with a religious curriculum, which would seem like a clear violation of using taxpayer dollars to support religion.
Using public funds to support religious schools is problematic on its own for those who do not think taxpayer dollars should go to promote religion. What many find even more problematic, however, is the lack of basic civil rights protections that can go on in the schools themselves. Often, religious schools will hire or fire based on discriminatory actions like discovering the sexual orientation of a teacher, or seeing an unwed staff member become pregnant. Invoking so called “morality” clauses, the entities feel free to discriminate with abandon and no repercussions, and if vouchers are then allowed for those private schools, it would be using taxpayer dollars while they do it.
One school in North Carolina is going even further when it comes to their own discriminatory policies. Myrtle Grove Christian School, a North Carolina private religious school that now accepts school vouchers, is asking students and families to take a pledge stating “they won’t support or participate in ‘homosexual activity.’”
“The school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home or the activities of a student are counter to or are in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches,” says a letter sent to students’ families, according to the Star News Online.
Not all of the parents at the school believe that “Biblical morality” means discriminating against the LGBT community, either. “I believe above all else that we are to love one another,” one Christian mother of a Myrtle Grove student said, according to WECT News. ”I believe that is what we are taught in the Bible. I believe that is what’s most important and when we start discriminating against people and marginalizing them we are pushing people away and were [sic] not showing that kind of love that I think we’re all called to show.”
The school claims that it isn’t doing anything illegal, as according to North Carolina law they are free to “set their mission” and disallow or expel any child that doesn’t adhere to that “mission.” The North Carolina ACLU disagrees with that assessment, saying once taxpayer dollars are accepted, their “mission” can’t actively discriminate. “Taxpayers should not have to help foot the bill for educational institutions that cast aside young people simply because they are gay or are being raised by two moms or two dads,” Sarah Preston, the state ACLU’s policy director, told the paper.
Myrtle Grove may be rethinking their policy, especially in light of the public backlash. The school announced it will host meetings with parents to further clarify why they are setting this policy for the 2014-2015 enrollment period, although they didn’t specify when the meeting would be held. Should the pledge go into effect, and the school continue to be open to taxpayer funded vouchers, expect more criticism and, likely a lawsuit, to follow.
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