Maryland Christian School Sues State After Being Purged from Voucher Program

P. Gardner Goldsmith | June 28, 2019
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Out of Maryland comes a breaking story that serves as a perfect example of how easy it is to become justifiably caught in the details while missing another important issue when it comes to education, freedom, and the state.

According to Catholic News Agency, Bethel Christian Academy has brought suit against the government of Maryland after the state cut the school from a voucher program for students from low-income families and ordered it to reimburse $100,000 for previous voucher funds. The academy, which admits students from 40 counties, from any religious or non-religious background, and which offers instruction for grades pre-K through 8th grade, has acquired legal representation from The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF).

Observed ADF legal counsel, Christen Price:

Unfortunately, Maryland bureaucrats are telling low-income students that this high-quality education can’t be an option for them due solely to the school’s religious beliefs. Worse still, the state is now demanding Bethel pay back over $100,000 from the two years it participated in the program, which would be a serious financial hardship for the school.

At the core of the issue – or what many people think is the core of the issue, but is only part of a much larger issue – is the fact that Bethel asks students to conform to a particular code of conduct, and the state has a problem with that.

According to Catholic News Agency:

The Maryland Department of Education last year disqualified the academy from participating in the state’s Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) voucher program, which benefits low-income students in the area… The department had previously requested to see the student handbooks of schools in the program. Bethel’s handbook includes a statement of Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality.

And, of course, the bureaucrats found a problem.

In making its decision, the Department of Education cited a state law forbidding BOOST schools from discriminating in the admissions process on sexual orientation.

This is where debaters on either side of the issue can become lost in the weeds, becoming justifiably upset, while missing a much more profound lesson.

As the ADF observes, this isn’t about sexual orientation, it’s about sexual activity outside marriage, hence, conduct, not thought.

…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.

And so, to many, the lines are drawn. The state appears to be targeting Bethel with infringement of a rule that Bethel is not infringing, and the ramifications might be not only that Bethel can no longer receive voucher money, but that the academy has to pay back $100,000.

There are, of course, certain Constitutional questions that come to mind, the first of which is the mistaken belief that no state can be involved with funding religions or religious schools. The First Amendment does not prohibit states from funding religious entities or religious schools, or from infringing on the right to speak or peaceably assemble. It prohibits the Congress from making any law in those regards. There were speech codes on the books in many states until the latter half of the 19th Century, and some states, especially Pennsylvania, had government-sponsored religious schools through that period, as well.

So, on a constitutional level, as much as people might not like it, states are free to fund or not fund religious schools, directly, or indirectly, through vouchers the parents spend themselves.

The next question is whether Maryland is mistaken in claiming that Bethel is acting with hostile discriminatory intent by maintaining its policy regarding student conduct and sex only after marriage, and a marriage defined as between a man and woman.

That certainly appears to be the case.

So it appears that the state is not being consistent about its rules for handing out education cash. Which one should question since money is being pulled from some people - to hand it to others.

Many people note that they believe there is, or should be, a “separation of church and state” in the US. But this misses a major point.

Collectivists who stump for the "separation of church and state" might do themselves a service to consider that the state separates itself from nothing. There is, and never will be, a separation of church and state, because the existence of the state necessitates the expropriation of cash, time, and allegiance from people who would otherwise make their own decisions. This effects all things, including the ability to worship. At its most fundamental it is the eternal question handled by Christ and the earliest religious rebels of the Old and New Testaments: Shall each man really exercise free will, and answer to the highest authority (his Creator and the natural laws instituted by the Creator) or shall man answer to the arbitrary authority of another fallible man, or groups of them?

The government attaches to everything because it is a parasite, existing off the productive capacity of individuals. To argue over where the parasite pumps its ill-gotten blood is to miss the point about parasitism.

And that is a lesson rarely taught in school.


(Cover Photo:  Alliance Defending Freedom)