Protect The 1st welcomes the news that Democratic Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro added a private school choice plan, Lifeline Scholarships, to his education plan. In Illinois, where more than 7,000 students benefit from a state tax-credit scholarship program, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker reversed his opposition to this scholarship program so it will continue to provide financial support for thousands of students to attend private and parochial schools.
Shapiro and Pritzker are not alone. Today, 31 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico have private school choice programs. Twenty-one states offer tax-credit programs for parents. And 45 states plus Washington, D.C., permit public charter schools.
“Governors are responding to the evidence that for millions of children, school choice is a powerful first step on the ladder to success,” said Rick Boucher, former U.S. Representative from Virginia, and Protect The 1st Senior Policy Advisor. “It is in the finest tradition of our party to provide quality education for American children across all zip codes. I am glad to see my fellow Democrats take up the mantle.”
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently ordered the San Jose Unified School District to reinstate the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) as a recognized student club. A tartly written concurrence by one judge vividly portrays a hostile culture of secularism that may be behind some recent overreaching official efforts to isolate students from religious observance.
The issue at hand was that FCA leaders are required to abide by a Statement of Faith, which includes the belief that sexual relations should be limited within the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. Judge Kenneth K. Lee, one of two out of three judges on the panel that decided in favor of the FCA, wrote a stinging concurrence. He vividly portrays “a stench of animus against the students’ religious beliefs” that pervades San Jose’s Pioneer High School campus.
Judge Lee describes one Pioneer high school teacher, Peter Glasser, who “channeled his inner Martin Luther, pinning the [FCA’s] Statement of Faith and Sexual Purity Statement to his classroom whiteboard along with his grievances. But instead of a reformation, Glasser demanded an inquisition. As he explained in emails sent to Principal Espiritu, FCA’s ‘bs’ views ‘have no validity’ and amount to heresy because they violated ‘my truth.’ Glasser believed ‘attacking these views is the only way to make a better campus’ and proclaimed he would not be an ‘enabler for this kind of ‘religious freedom’ anymore.”
Judge Lee then turned to the behavior of another school official.
“Michelle Bowman,” Judge Lee writes, “also serves on the Climate Committee [a body that pushed to de-recognize the FCA] and as a faculty advisor to the Satanic Temple Club. In discussing this lawsuit with a former student, she opined that ‘evangelicals, like FCA, are charlatans and not in the least bit Christian,’ and choose darkness over knowledge and perpetuate ignorance.’ But it is not for Bowman to dictate what beliefs are genuinely Christian.”
Hit with this onslaught of attacks, the FCA was derecognized in two days without giving FCA students any opportunity to defend themselves or their organization. Judge Lee goes on to describe the efforts by Glasser and others to further accuse the expelled group of creating a hostile work environment for students and faculty because of their beliefs.
“In other words,” Judge Lee wrote, “teenagers – meeting privately to discuss the Bible – were creating a hostile work environment for adult faculty, according to Glasser.”
Judge Lee concludes: “In sum, animus against the FCA students’ religious-based views infected the School District’s decision to strip the FCA of its ASB status. And that violates the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.”
Just as religion should not be taught in the classroom, it should also be free of harassment by educators and officials.
Only 29 percent of Americans trust public schools, the lowest level of support for public schools since Gallup first asked about it in 1973.
“Parents are increasingly voting with their feet,” reports Bloomberg. “Voucher programs in 15 states now use taxpayer dollars to subsidize tuition at private or religious schools. Charter schools account for almost 7 percent of overall enrollment; in Washington, D.C., 43 percent of public-school children attend one. Also, more kids are getting home schooled.”
Bloomberg cites many factors behind this shift, including mask mandates and security. One finding stood out to us: While enrollment in traditional public schools is down, alternatives are growing more popular. Magnet schools have seen 78 percent growth in school enrollment 2018 to 2020. Charter schools have seen 113 percent growth in that period. Private school enrollment is up, both for religious and sectarian schools.
Many parents of faith want schools to leave intellectual space for their children to continue the family faith tradition at home. Many parents want their children to understand the American story, warts and all, as being about painful triumphs of human rights in a democracy. Diminishing quality is a pervasive concern.
As public schools weaken substantive instruction in math, English, science and history, millions of American parents are moving their children to alternatives, from charter schools to religious schools. In doing so, they are expressing their views and thus exercising their First Amendment rights to the fullest.
Protect The 1st reported earlier this month on the signing of AB 2571 into law, which prohibits the marketing of firearms or related products in a manner that “reasonably appears to be attractive to minors.” While intended to tamp down on soaring rates of gun violence, this new law has so far curbed wholesome youth groups and sporting activities, along with freedom of expression.
Since then, multiple youth sporting organizations have had to shut their doors and scrub their websites. But the fight isn’t over for these groups. On August 24, several youth firearm sporting groups in the state of California filed a mandamus petition requesting the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit immediately halt the state’s unconstitutional new gun and speech restrictions.
The petitioners are Junior Sports Magazines, Raymond Brown, the California Youth Shooting Sports Association, the Redlands California Youth Clay Shooting Sports, the California Rifle & Pistol Association, The CRPA Foundation, Gun Owners of California, and the Second Amendment Foundation.
The petition states that “if relief is not granted within the requested time, Petitioners will suffer ongoing and irreparable harm—i.e., the loss of their fundamental First and
Fourteenth Amendment rights…”
Sadly, the court denied the petition on Friday, meaning the motion for preliminary injunction cannot be heard until September 12. Despite having both their First and Second Amendment rights infringed, the Court held that Petitioners “have not demonstrated that this case warrants the intervention of this court by means of the extraordinary remedy of mandamus.”
PT1st looks forward to further developments on this case.
Robert Pondiscio, senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a former New York City public school teacher, and Elli Lucas, research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute, wrote Monday in The Washington Examiner:
“Not only can [school] choice provide a way out for students in failing schools, but it can also enrich our nation by enhancing its vibrancy, variety, and vivacity. Our nation is better off when its schools are not a bland monoculture but rather match the varied dynamism of its people and their aspirations.”
Protect The 1st would only add that religious schools are a strong contributor of vibrancy and variety for a bland monoculture. Empowering schools that offer quality education standards while also continuing faith traditions – be they Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu – is a powerful use of the Free Exercise Clause to the benefit of all.