School supply lists, back-to-school shopping, squeezing in one last family trip…
That’s how my family typically spent the last few weeks of summer leading up to a new school year. By that time, our plans were set for the fall. We knew where we would be attending school, who our teachers would be, and what was on our reading list.
But this wasn’t the story for some families in Maryland during the past school year, who found themselves scrambling to enroll their children in a different school at the last minute.
That’s exactly what happened to several families who were planning to send their kids to Bethel Christian Academy, a private Christian school that serves students in pre-K through eighth grade, last fall. The school had participated in Maryland’s school voucher program for twoyears. But this past school year, the state informed Bethel – just a few weeks before the school year started – that its students would no longer be permitted to use voucher money to attend the school. That meant the families who relied on this money to attend Bethel were forced to look elsewhere.
On top of that, the state told Bethel that it would need to repay any money it had received from the state’s voucher program for the past two years – a total of over $100,000!
Why the sudden change?
Well, Bethel asks its students to adhere to a code of conduct that is consistent with its religious beliefs – including the belief that sexual activity should be reserved for marriage between one man and one woman.
It’s worth noting that Bethel Christian Academy’s student handbook only references conduct, which prohibits any sex outside of marriage, and makes no reference to identity. After all, Bethel welcomes any student that would like to attend the school, regardless of how they identify.
But Maryland has decided that this belief is unacceptable, making its hostility toward Bethel’s religious beliefs quite clear.
That’s why Alliance Defending Freedom filed a lawsuit on behalf of Bethel Christian Academy.
Bethel strives to provide an excellent education in a caring, Christian environment.
And the school has a reputation for doing just that.
The staff at Bethel is dedicated to helping students grow academically and spiritually, not only during the school day, but also outside of school hours. Bethel provides before- and after-school programs where students can have meals, work on their homework, and participate in activities while their parents are at work.
Bethel is also dedicated to serving children from a variety of backgrounds. Around 85 percent of the school’s students are from minority populations, and at least 25 percent receive financial aid of some kind – both from the school and from the state.
It’s no wonder that parents would want to send their children to Bethel.
Instead of letting these families make their own decisions about where their children attend school, however, Maryland is deciding for them.
But why should the government get to take away the choices of these parents when it comes to their children’s education?
This only hurts the students that benefit from this program.
The voucher program makes it possible for low-income students to attend the schools they want to – including Bethel Christian Academy. But now, at least three families had to leave Bethel and find a new school for their students to attend.
And while Bethel has tried to offer more money in financial aid to help parents cover the costs, it simply cannot fill the gap that the state left. But it has tried. The school abandoned plans for building upgrades, stopped hiring new teachers, and is holding off on backfilling vacant positions. And that’s not to mention the fact that Bethel has increased class sizes in order to respond to this loss of funding.
But the state of Maryland doesn’t care. It’s determined to punish Bethel Christian Academy because it does not fall in line with its ideological agenda – at any cost. And that includes the well-being of the children these schools serve.
January 16 is National Religious Freedom Day. For many Americans, this day carries more weight than in recent years – because of what churches have encountered this past year and the challenges ahead.Continue reading