MESA, Ariz. — A prominent church-state separation group is demanding that officials at an Arizona high school cease referencing Christianity in its government class under threat of a lawsuit.
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, recently sent a letter to Earl Taylor, Jr., the principal of Heritage Academy in Mesa, to issue to the demand.
While the organization asserts that the academy’s government class is “anchored heavily in religion,” it specifically and especially takes issue with the use of a textbook called “Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land,” published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies.
The book, AU says, cites the divine Creator, biblical law and judgment following death.
“All things were created by God, therefore upon Him all mankind are equally dependent, and to Him they are equally responsible,” it reads. “To protect men’s rights, God has revealed certain principles of divine law.”
The publication also explains the faith of the Founding Fathers, they 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 Au also takes issue with the oral class instruction, which it asserts from its unnamed complainant is filled with religious references, including that “God sank a foreign navy in response to people’s fasting and prayers.” It says that student assignments also include reflections on the teachings in the textbook.
“In sum, we have confirmed that Heritage Academy’s mandatory government class for seniors teaches and promotes religion—through written material, oral instruction, and assignments students must complete—in plain violation of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions,” the letter reads.
It demands that the school discontinue use of the textbook and others, cease any teaching of religion in the classroom and even to “remove from the calculation of all student grades any such assignments [referencing Christianity] that have already been given this semester.”
AU sent two other letters to Heritage Academy in past years, but Taylor says the school has committed no wrong.
“Our purpose is not to convert students to different religious views,” Taylor told AZCentral last year. “It is to show them that religion influenced what the Founders did.”
But AU says the books and teachings must go—or else.
“We are prepared to file suit on behalf of our client if Heritage Academy does not stop promoting religion in its government class,” the latest letter threatens.
As previously reported, the first textbook used in the American colonies even before the nation’s founding, “The New England Primer,” was largely focused on the Scriptures, and was stated to be popular in public and private schools alike until approximately the early 1900’s. It used mostly the King James Bible as reference, and spoke much about sin, salvation and proper behavior.
“Save me, O God, from evil all this day long, and let me love and serve Thee forever, for the sake of Jesus Christ, Thy Son,” it read.
Many of the Founders’ children learned to read from the primer.