MESA, Ariz. — A nationally-recognized church-state separation group has sued an Arizona charter school on behalf of a United Methodist minister and an offended parent for allegedly “pushing religion on students” by using curriculum that includes text favorable of Christianity.
As previously reported, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), led by Barry Lynn, an attorney who is also ordained in the United Church of Christ, sent a letter last September to Earl Taylor, Jr., the principal of Heritage Academy, which has campuses in Mesa, Gateway and Leveen, to demand that the school cease referencing Christianity in its government class.
While the organization asserted that the academy’s government class is “anchored heavily in religion,” it specifically and especially took issue with the use of a textbook called “Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land,” published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which is led by Taylor.
The book, AU says, cites the divine Creator, biblical law and judgment following death.
“[T]here [is] but one eternal and unchangeable law [that] will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge,” it reads, citing the ancient Roman orator Marcus Cicero.
The publication also explains the faith of the Founding Fathers, that they “did not look upon God as some mysterious teleological force operating automatically and indifferently in nature,” but believed “that their Creator was both intelligent and benevolent and therefore anxious and capable of responding to” their prayers.
But Taylor did not pull the textbook during the 2015-2016 school year, as he explained that he is not seeking to convert students, but to only cite how “religion influenced what the Founders did.”
AU consequently filed suit against Taylor and Heritage Academy on Sept. 7, alleging that the entities are violating the U.S. Constitution and the Arizona Constitution. The organization is suing on behalf of an unidentified parent whose child attends the school, and David Felten, the pastor of the United Methodist congregation known as The Fountains.
“Felten is offended by and objects to the expenditure of his tax dollars to support the provision of religious instruction by Taylor and Heritage Academy to public-school students,” the legal complaint reads.
It alleges that the school required students to memorize “28 principles” and to recite them before the class, and encouraged them to share the concepts with others outside of school.
The principles included: “Men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” “To protect man’s rights, God has revealed certain principles of divine law,” and “All things were created by God, therefore upon Him all mankind are equally dependent, and to Him they are equally responsible.”
“Heritage Academy and its principal, Defendant Taylor, are advancing religious beliefs and mandates by instructing students that they should obey and implement laws given by God in order to lead a happy life and have a prosperous country,” the lawsuit alleges.
“The religious instruction at Heritage Academy results in excessive entanglement of government with religion, coerced religious instruction, and endorsement by the state of religion over nonreligion and of a particular religion and religious viewpoint over others,” it says.
AU and its complainants are seeking a declaratory judgment that the school violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and have requested an injunction against the further use of “religious material” at Heritage Academy. If the school continues to teach students about religion, AU requests that the Department of Administration be prohibited from providing taxpayer funding.
The complainants are also seeking to collect an unspecified amount for damages.
“Plaintiffs are harmed, intimidated, and distressed by the Heritage Academy Defendants’ endorsement and promotion of religious views, which Plaintiffs believe should not be taught in public schools, and by the use of Plaintiffs’ tax dollars to fund that endorsement and promotion of religious views,” the lawsuit asserts.
As previously reported, in 1839, Noah Webster, known as the Father of American Scholarship and Education, said, “Practical truths in religion, in morals, and in all civil and social concerns ought to be among the first and most prominent objects of instruction. Without a competent knowledge of legal and social rights and duties, persons are often liable to suffer in property or reputation, by neglect or mistakes.”
“Without religious and moral principles deeply impressed on the mind, and controlling the whole conduct, science and literature will not make men what the laws of God require them to be,” he continued. “And without both kinds of knowledge, citizens cannot enjoy the blessings which they seek, and which a strict conformity to rules of duty will enable them to obtain.”
Webster, a schoolmaster, wrote America’s first dictionary in 1828, which often cited Christianity and the Bible.