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Getting god out of Texas charter schools: religious exploitation plagues tax-funded system

Getting god out of Texas charter schools: religious exploitation plagues tax-funded system August 9, 2016

By Christopher Line
Legal Extern
Freedom From Religion Foundation

Charter schools are independently run public schools that rely on taxpayer funds to operate. As such, they should be held to the same standards as traditional public schools, but often they are not. Sadly, some charter schools are taking advantage of this lack of oversight to indoctrinate rather than educate the children in their charge… and they are receiving public funds to do so.

State chartering agencies need to carefully scrutinize religious organizations that apply to open charter schools because there is an inherent risk that these schools will violate the Establishment Clause by promoting and endorsing religion to students.

FFRF has recently singled out Newman International Academy and Advantage Academy in Texas for brazenly promoting Christianity to their students, but these schools are not the first, and certainly won’t be the last, to take advantage of the charter school system to promote religion.

When forming, charter schools that intend to promote their own religious beliefs go to great lengths to appear secular on paper. They often don’t mention their religious motivations when they file to become a charter school, and only after they are granted charter school status do we see hints at how religion pervades their curricula.

In some cases, like Newman International Academy, the chartering agency was aware of the school’s religious motivations, but it received promises that those people who were deeply committed to evangelizing and proselytizing would not allow that motivation to influence the charter school. Unsurprisingly, the religious zeal held sway.

Newman International Academy

Newman International Academy founder Sheba George has described how she has a “longing for the strongest spiritual revival the world has even known.” Her biography touts her religious credentials.

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It’s therefore unsurprising that under her leadership Newman International Academy adopted this blatantly religious school song for the school:

May God bless our school
As we march to our tomorrows
And stand tall today with
Love, Faith and Hope
We rise to build our nation
With wisdom, statute and favor,
May God bless our school
Today and forever.

Newman’s charter school application fails to include any intentions to incorporate religion into the school or the proposed school song, but it does include some red flags, especially the original and highly religious purpose for the school, which was later redacted.

Other obvious warning signs were that Christian organizations pledged $11,000 to help start Newman International Academy. Front Line Church, Newman’s perspective landlord, helped fund the school with a “loan” by deferring two months rent and utility payments.

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In a letter to the IRS, Newman’s attorney recognized that “a charter school cannot advocate any religious teaching because of the Constitutional principal [sic] of the ‘separation of church and state.’” He went on to describe that Newman’s application was conditionally accepted, provided that it “amend its organizing documents to remove all religious purposes…”

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It did amend those organizing documents, but the original bylaws for Newman International Academy, which was originally called Saints Servers International Inc., are available in the charter school application and reveal the organization’s initial religious purpose, which it later revised in order to get approval.

The bylaws included a statement of faith that outlines some of its beliefs:

CHRIST BLOOD:
Because Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, His blood shed on the cross of Calvary is 100% sufficient to cleanse us of all sins when appropriated individually through repentance and faith. Jesus allowed himself to be punished for the sins we have committed, enabling all who believe to be freed from the penalty of sin, which is death (1 John 1:7; Rev. 1:5; Col. 1:20; Rom. 3:10-12, 23; 5:9; John 1:29).

BAPTISM IN THE HOLY SPIRIT WITH EVIDENCE OF SPEAKING IN TONGUES:
Initiated at Pentecost, Holy Spirit baptism is the promise of the Father, given by Jesus after His ascension, to empower the Church to preach the gospel throughout the whole earth. The primary purpose of speaking in tongues is to bring edification to the believer by enhancing his prayer life (Acts 1:5, 8; 2:1-4. 17. 38-39; 8:14-17; 10:38, 44-47; 11:15-17; 19:1-6; Mark 16:17; Joel 2:28-29; Matt. 3:11).

MARRIAGE
Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant commitment for a lifetime. It is God’s unique gift to reveal the union between Christ and His church and to provide for the man and the woman in marriage the framework for intimate companionship, the channel of sexual expression according to biblical standards, and the means of procreation of the human race (Genesis 2:18-25; Prov. 31:10-31; Mal. 2:14-16; Matt 19:3-9; Eph. 5:22-33; 6:1-4; I Thess. 2:7, 11; 11 Tim. 3:1-12; 5:4; 1 Pet. 3:1-7).

SECOND COMING:
Jesus Christ will physically and visibly return to earth for the second time to establish his kingdom. This will occur at a time undisclosed by the Scriptures (Rev. 1:7; Acts 1:9-11; Matt. 24:30; 26:63-64; 1 Th. 4:15, 17; 2 Th. 1:7-8).

The charter also reveals that prior to founding a charter school its main purpose was “to serve the body of Christ through teaching and preaching the Word of God…”

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Saints Servers International represented that it willing to give up preaching and proselytizing in order to establish a truly secular charter school, but the evidence suggests otherwise.

Advantage Academy

Similar to Newman, the founder of Advantage Academy, Allen Beck, has publicly state that he opened up Advantage Academy in Texas to “put the bible and prayer back into public schools.” Furthermore, he has bragged about how he duped the Texas Education Agency into allowing him to teach the bible to students.

Advertisements for Advantage Academy have described a “private school feel” and “faith friendly environment.”

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Advantage Academy’s mission includes:

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  • Challenging students to establish the foundation of knowledge that created “One Nation Under God” through the study of unabridged American history and the Bible in History and Literature.

Again, none of this seemingly important information about this school’s origins and planned curriculum made it into Advantage Academy’s charter school application.

Though charter schools are free from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools, they still receive public funds and must follow the same constitutional mandates. Charter schools, even those founded by religious organizations or religious leaders:

  • Must not promote or endorse religious views in their schools
  • Must not use the bible, quran, or any other religious text for the purposes of religious instruction
  • Must not encourage students to pray or take part in religious events
  • Must provide a secular learning environment for students free of religious iconography and other forms of proselytization
  • Must not teach creationism or intelligent design

Advantage Academy and Newman International Academy are not outliers. While it’s possible for deeply religious people and organizations to put aside their religious beliefs and create a truly secular school dedicated to the important mission of educating our nation’s youth, that is often not their motivation. Religious groups are drawn to public tax dollars, which they want to invest in promoting their personal religious beliefs.

The Texas Education Agency and other organizations in charge of approving new charter schools need to carefully scrutinize charter school requests from religious organizations. While it’s entirely possible that these schools will follow the required constitutional mandates, charter schools don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Too many have already abused the system.

 

Christopher Line is a 3L at the University of Wisconsin Law School. He has been both an intern and extern with FFRF.  FFRF is a national nonprofit dedicated to keeping state and church separate and educating about nontheism. For more information and a copy of our paper, Freethought Today, please click here.


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