Arizona charter public school students learn religious belief in government classroom, so Americans sue

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“All things were created by God, therefore all mankind also depends on him, and to him they are equally responsible.”

This phrase appears in a mandatory textbook used in the U.S. government classroom at Heritage Academy, a public charter school for grades seven through twelfth with three campuses near Phoenix, Arizona.

The phrase is one of twenty-eight “Principles of Freedom” that all students must memorize, recite aloud for the class, and repeat in their written assignments. Other principles include:

* “The only reliable basis for sound government and righteous human relations is natural law” (ie the law of God).

* “Without religion, the government of a free people cannot be maintained.”

* “To protect human rights, God has revealed a code of divine law” (Old Testament).

This manual and the US government teacher (who is also the principal and founder of the school) instruct students that they have a duty to obey these 28 principles and to work to ensure that the principles govern our political processes so that the United States can be restored to its former glory.

This US government course is compulsory for all Heritage Academy students, and the religious instruction in the course is not limited to Principles. Students also learn that they must obey the Ten Commandments to be happy, that God destroyed a French fleet that threatened the American colonies in the 18th century, and that testimony in legal proceedings is worthless if given by a witness. who refuses to swear an oath to God.

The Heritage Academy’s take on the US government might be rather surprising, even for a private school; it is certainly not traditional history or political science. But Heritage Academy is not a private school; it’s a Public charter school – meaning it receives public money from the State of Arizona to provide public education to public school students. Therefore, Heritage Academy must adhere to the prohibitions in the U.S. Constitution against government promotion of religious beliefs, just as all other public schools must.

But Heritage Academy refused to do so, despite our repeated efforts to change them. Americans United sent three letters to Heritage Academy and the Arizona State Council that oversees public charter schools, asking them to align the school’s curriculum with constitutional requirements.

These controversial tomes, which claim that the US Constitution is based on “biblical principles,” are used in an Arizona public charter school.

They ignored us. So today, Americans United brought a lawsuit against the school as well as its founder, director and teacher in the United States government, Earl Taylor Jr. and state officials responsible for giving public money to the Heritage Academy and the ability to function as a public school.

Taylor founded Heritage Academy 20 years ago; the school has now expanded to three campuses serving over 1,000 middle and high school students. Taylor is also the chairman of a group called the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which publishes the religious instruction manuals that Heritage Academy requires students to read and study.

These NCCS publications include: Proclaim freedom across the land, Five thousand year leap: a miracle that changed the world, and America’s making, all of which are the work of W. Cleon Skousen. Skousen, who founded the NCCS in 1971, was an anti-Communist writer and Mormon theologian closely associated with the John Birch Society.

Skousen was ultimately rejected by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his teachings; he once proclaimed, for example, that President Dwight Eisenhower was a Communist agent. Skousen’s book America’s making (which is required reading at Heritage Academy) has also attracted attention before: In 1987, the California Bicentennial Commission approved the book’s sale as a fundraiser, until historians point out that the account in the book on American history was racist and utterly false. Even more surprisingly, Skousen’s books used at the Heritage Academy also promote the misconception that the Anglo-Saxons who settled in Britain were the lost tribes of Israel.

Earl Taylor has profited from the use of taxpayer money to spread his religious beliefs for more than two decades. Now, with the help of Americans United, a parent at Heritage Academy and Reverend David Felten of the Fountains United Methodist Church have filed a lawsuit to end Taylor’s constitutional violations. They believe, as we do – and as the United States Supreme Court has said time and time again – that decisions about religious education belong to families and their places of worship, not publicly funded schools. . Students should learn about government in government class; they shouldn’t be learning their teacher’s favorite theology. Public charter schools, like all public schools, should respect the religious freedom of students and their families to make their own decisions about their religious beliefs.

If you know of a public charter school that provides religious education to its students, Americans United would love to hear from you. Please contact us at [email protected].


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