A federal lawsuit has been filed by a national organization arguing that an Arizona charter school with ties to members of the state Board of Education has been illegally using state funds to teach religious doctrine.
The lawsuit claims that Heritage Academy, which has three campuses in Maricopa County enrolling over 1,100 children between grades seven and twelve, has violated the First Amendment, as well as state constitutional provisions and Arizona laws, by providing instruction and required reading to students that focus on religion.
High school seniors at the school are required to take an American Government class taught by the school's founder and principal, Earl Taylor, Jr. The lawsuit maintains that Taylor is teaching students about the Ten Commandments, including those that claim that in order to be happy, one must worship God.
Taylor states that the required textbook for the course, "Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land," tracks the "influence of religion in America's founding, using the words of the Founders themselves." The textbook itself is a discussion guide containing excerpts of work by W. Cleon Skousen, who the lawsuit suggests is a "Mormon theologian."
A total of 28 principles must be learned and recited by students throughout the course. These include "Without religion, the government of a free people cannot be maintained," as well as "All things were created by God, therefore upon Him all mankind are equally dependent, and to Him they are equally responsible."
"Mr. Taylor teaches his class and chooses his educational materials to be expressly religious, and makes a point of underscoring the religious lessons that he is trying to impart in class to the students," said attorney Richard B. Katskee of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
"The violation here is straightforward, obvious, and egregious," he said.
A number of complaints have been filed by parents to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools concerning the goings-on at the school dating back to 2000. One complaint listed that year said that a literature teacher at the school had told students that women who have at least seven children earn a "higher place in heaven."
Other complaints listed in the lawsuit say the school uses a number of textbooks that include the phrase "in a Christian perspective."
Katskee argues that it is the right of the parents to decide what, if any, religious instruction their child receives. He goes on to say that such education is not the responsibility of the public school system, and should not be funded by taxpayers, reports Derek Staahl for AZFamily.
A complaint on the matter had previously been filed with the Board for Charter Schools by Americans United for Separation of Church and State in 2013. However, several months later the board responded to say that the complaint had been reviewed and closed. The Board for Charter Schools and other state public education officials are listed as co-defendants in the lawsuit.
The lawsuit would like to see a ban placed on Heritage Academy from offering any religious instruction or using religious instruction materials.