When The State Punishes a Christian School for Being Christian

December 15, 2023

By

Vance Voetberg

December 15, 2023

When The State Punishes a Christian School for Being Christian

By
Vance Voetberg
Schools

Why do Christian schools exist?

To provide higher level academics? That’s one reason. To allow for a more individualized learning environment? Another plus. Better sports programs? Sometimes. While these are possible reasons for the intent of Christian schools, they fail to capture the heart—the mission—of Christian education.

Simply put, Christian schools exist to instill God’s truth in students’ educational upbringing. A Christian education is holistic, teaching students to use their mind, body, and spirit to seek excellence and pursue truth.

In Vermont, state officials have shown a particular disdain for this kind of education. And they’re not just seeking to thwart Christian schools; they are actively punishing them.

Meet Mid Vermont Christian School

Mid Vermont Christian School (MVCS) exists to glorify God by providing pre-k-12th grade students with academic excellence established in biblical truth, ultimately preparing students for college, ministry, and the workforce. From academics to athletics, MVCS centralizes Christ and His word in all they teach and how they live.

This includes teaching the biblical truth—and biological reality—that males and females are equal in value yet distinct in design. It also considers that from the moment of conception, a person’s sex is fixed, not fluid.

Earlier this year, this biblical and scientific view of sex was challenged when the MVCS girls' basketball team was scheduled to play against a team with a biological male who identified as a female. Was the school to set aside its convictions on the basketball court? To teach and know the truth in the classroom but obfuscate when the teachings are tested? To affirm that sex could be based on feelings rather than biology?

The school chose to forfeit the game instead of its convictions.

The state of Vermont resented MVCS’s respectful withdrawal and has chosen to punish the school for living up to its Christian name. In fact, when MVCS raised its religious reasoning to the sports association, they saw fit to be the theological arbiter of the school, saying MVCS’s decision was “wrong” and “had nothing to do with religion.” State officials have subsequently barred the school from participating in any state-run sports and academic competitions.

“As a coach and parent, I did not think I would have to tell my daughter that she could not compete in school sports because of our Christian worldview,” said the MVCS girls basketball coach, Chris Goodwin.

In addition to the state penalizing the school for holding a biblical view of sex, Vermont has also discriminated against MVSC by denying the school from participating in its publicly available tuition program.

Vermont runs a Town Tuitioning Program, where school districts that don’t have public high schools pay the tuition for its resident students to attend a public or private high school of their choice. For years, Vermont prohibited religious private schools from participating in the program simply because those schools were “religious.” But after a federal court ruled that Vermont could no longer exclude religious schools, the state’s Agency of Education devised a new set of rules that schools must embrace.

The problem, however, is that these new rules now force religious schools to surrender their faith-based employment, admissions, and operations policies to participate. That is, the new set of rules positioned schools like MVCS to choose between surrendering funds or their faith.

MVCS refused to set aside its biblically rooted policies, so Vermont denied the school and its students from participating in its publicly available tuition program.

The Law Sides with MVCS

The state’s Machiavellian moves against MVCS stifle the school’s resources and students’ academic and extracurricular opportunities. These actions are disappointing, but unfortunately, not surprising.

“Vermont has an infamous record of discriminating against religious schools and families, whether it be withholding generally available public funding or denying them membership in the state’s sports league because they hold religious beliefs that differ from the state’s preferred views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Ryan Tucker, director of the ADF Center for Christian Ministries.

Just last year, ADF attorneys settled two lawsuits favorably with the same narrative: discrimination against religious schools for excluding them from publicly available funds. Yet, just months after the settlement, Vermont officials abandoned their commitment to stop discriminating against religious schools in their strong-arm tactics against MVCS.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence on this very issue—whether states can discriminate against religious schools—is unequivocal. Just last year, the Court ruled that the state of Maine cannot exclude students who attend religious schools from a government program in which they are otherwise qualified.

“A state need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools because they are religious,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts in 2020’s Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.

Vermont’s hostility towards MVCS is a failure to treat all schools with the neutrality that the law requires.

The Court has spoken. The issue has been decided, and the law sides with Mid Vermont Christian School.

Autonomy From The State’s Doctrine

Punishing a school for teaching the sex binary—a truth that has gone unchallenged for thousands of years—indicates that the state has its own set of principles to instill. This is one of the key reasons parents choose an alternative like Christian education: to replace what the state might deem as moral and right with what the Bible defines as upright and true.

That's why MVCS exists—to impart education rooted in Biblical principles. As for state officials in Vermont? It appears that their mission is to eliminate this kind of education and beliefs.

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