In Georgia, Taxpayer Money is Supporting Religious Schools Barring LGBT Students

This weekend, the New York Times uncovered a popular, if ethically questionable, tax credit program gaining traction in Georgia. The program transforms state money into scholarships for low-income students to attend private schools — including many heavily religious schools where strict policies keep out LGBT students.

The program supposedly seeks to limit conflicts of church and state because the scholarship money is “collected and distributed” by nonprofit organizations rather than being directly funneled from the state to the schools.

The Southern Education Foundation counts that at least 115 religious schools in Georgia have “severe antigay policies,” with the actual number likely being much higher; public information about the scholarship program is limited by law, and oversight is minimal.

Steve Suitts, the vice president of the foundation and the author of the report, said that as many as a third of the schools in the scholarship program have strict antigay policies or adhere to a religious philosophy that holds homosexuality as immoral or a sin.

As a result, his report says, public money is being spent by private educational institutions that “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.”

These tax credit scholarships are especially popular with advocates for school choice. The scholarship program now runs in 11 states, and since Georgia’s program began in 2008, $170,000,000 in tax credits have been funneled through the system.

Last year, the program helped 28 low-income students attend a particular high school whose tuition normally comes in at around $13,000. Prayer and church attendance are part of the school’s mandatory curriculum:

State Representative Earl Ehrhart, a Republican who runs the Faith First Georgia state scholarship organization, has said he will push to increase the amount of state money allocated each year for the scholarships to $100 million during this legislative session.

“There is a real taste for anything that promotes school choice in Georgia,” he told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Fortunately, some are fighting back. A teacher at the Covenant Christian Academy filed a federal lawsuit last summer after her contract wasn’t renewed when she supported her high-school son for coming out as gay. Even some lawmakers recognize the program’s discriminatory implications:

“We are circumventing our own public policy with public money,” said State Representative Stacey Abrams, the leader of the Democratic minority in the House. “In our public schools, we do not disallow a child from attending on the basis of their sexual orientation.”

But those voices of reason seem to be the minority in a state where religion — namely Christianity — dominates every avenue of life, from culture to education. The most active lawmakers, officials, and parents in the state of Georgia seem to prefer education rooted in a “biblical moral code.” From their perspective, this program simply helps low-income students afford the private schools of their choice.

As if that weren’t bad enough?

And, they argue, the scholarship program is not discriminatory because it is open to all kinds of schools that might have different philosophical foundations than state-run public schools. It is a matter of choice and religious freedom, they say.

“You can be a Jewish school. You can be a Muslim school. It’s the same as a Catholic school or if I wanted to go to an all-girls school or a homosexual school,” said Claudia Hunt, who runs admissions for the Providence Christian Academy, a kindergarten-through-12th-grade school in Lilburn.

I would like to see some numbers for how many Jewish schools or Muslim schools or “homosexual schools” benefit from this program. This reeks of a conservative push to eliminate the separation of church and state once and for all, even if masked by technicalities.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

  • Roy Gamsgrø

    “biblical moral code”

    “Their children also shall be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses shall be spoiled, and their wives ravished.”

    Riiight…

  • MargueriteF

    What they call “religious philosophy,” I call bigotry.

  • ortcutt

    “The scholarships allow individuals and corporations to receive state tax credits for thousands of dollars in donations to nonprofit groups that, in turn, give the money to private schools.”

    If this were drug money we’d call that money laundering, and it’s the currently favored method of circumventing the Establishment Clause. If you’re wondering why no one has challenged this, it’s because in a 5-4 ruling, the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court decided that no one has standing to sue to challenge this.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/geoffrey-r-stone/eviscerating-the-establis_b_845646.html

  • anniewhoo

    Camille- Could you explain this tax credit program (where the money comes from)? Here in Florida, where we have school choice, money given to these private schools would normally go towards the public school, thus stressing an already under-funded education system even more. I’m not sure if the tax credit program you mention is the same thing or not.

  • ggsillars

    Dishonesty and bigotry together in one unappealing package.

  • northierthanthou.com

    Nothing like a nice money-laundering scheme to resolve questions about the Establishment Clause.

  • Baby_Raptor

    WTF is a “homosexual school”?

    And how loudly do you think these windbags would be crowing if one actually existed?

  • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

    And don’t forget that these schools also teach false science and revisionist history. Government money shouldn’t be going to fund religious indoctrination.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    “School Choice” seems to be a rather nasty euphemism for “We want state moneys to fund our bigotry and hate”.

  • Daddyo

    Hello I came accross this article I’m a father of three daughters that attend a Christian school that benifits from the program I am a donator to the program and I am currently helping a under privelaged family inroll there child in the program I can’t say I am the upmost authority on the program, but I have alot of knowledge on it. If you have any questions on it or (as long as it’s civil) what to know why I am a supporter of the program and faith based education please ask

  • Daddyo

    Im sorry i’m not the uppmost authority is what i meant

  • http://gplus.to/novenator novenator

    Conservatives don’t seem to understand some basic constitutional
    principles, like the freedom of religion (not having it shoved down your
    throat is included in that) and that everyone has rights.


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