Heritage Academy in Mesa, Arizona requires all seniors to take a government/U.S. Constitution class. Which is why it’s troubling that the textbook they’re using promotes Christianity as if it’s an integral part of both.
According to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, this book and the class went far beyond what’s legally allowed:
The government class curriculum is anchored heavily in religion. Students are assigned Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land, which teaches that God created everything, is the source of all proper law, intervenes in human affairs and responds to prayer. The book further asserts that America’s democracy cannot survive unless its people accept a “universal religion” reflecting fundamental Christian tenets.
Americans United further notes that students are not merely assigned religious material to read. They are also subjected to religious instruction orally, are required to memorize religious principles, and must complete homework and tests on those principles.
Here’s a brief look at what was taught in the class:
● A person must be religious to be a true patriot.
● People who do not believe in God are irrational.
● A person must be religious to be a trustworthy witness in court, because someone who does not believe in a divine creator cannot be trusted.
● Religion is necessary for morality.
● Monotheistic religious beliefs should be taught in schools.
● God sank a foreign navy in response to people’s fasting and prayers.
AU sent a letter to the public charter school’s Principal Earl Taylor, Jr. last August, reminding him that this was the third time the group had warned the school about unconstitutional textbooks. It seemed like Taylor, who also taught the class in question, was ignoring the problem.
He can’t ignore it any longer.
AU filed a federal lawsuit today against a list of defendants so large it takes up a full page. (That’s mostly because the suit also names government officials who are responsible for oversight of the state’s charter schools.)
“Heritage Academy is a public charter school that receives money from taxpayers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “That means it cannot force faith onto its students. Rather than teaching the U.S. Constitution in government classes, Heritage Academy is violating the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state.
“In a transparent attempt to proselytize the school’s religious views, Heritage Academy students are further taught that they are duty-bound to implement and instruct others about these religious and religiously based principles in order to restore the United States to ‘freedom, prosperity, and peace,’” Americans United asserts in the lawsuit.
The Plaintiffs include an unidentified parent whose child attends the school and United Methodist Church Rev. David Felten. Both of them are citizens whose taxes help fund the school.
Taylor isn’t the only problem, either. According to the lawsuit, other instructors also bring religion into the classroom:
A science teacher at Heritage Academy apologized to students for providing required instruction on evolution and told students that they did not need to believe the instruction on evolution that they received.
A history teacher at Heritage Academy responded to a student presentation on Charles Darwin by speaking for several minutes about how evolution is wrong.
Heritage Academy instructors frequently refer to God or Bible stories during class time.
For example, a physics teacher told students that the teacher was taught about the mechanics of the universe in college but not about “the Mechanic.”
The same physics teacher repeatedly referred to figures from the Bible, such as David or Noah, speaking of the Bible as historically accurate.
AU is asking for a declaratory judgment that the “the religious instruction at Heritage Academy violates the… U.S. Constitution and… the Arizona Constitution.” They want the improper religious teachings to end and for the school to stop receiving public funding. And whatever fees and costs the court deems fair.
Heritage Academy had plenty of chances to fix this problem and they punted every time. It’s about time they paid a price for their negligence.
(Large portions of this article were published earlier)