An Arizona public charter school violated the First Amendment when it assigned a textbook that promotes religion to students in government classes, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.
In a letter sent today to officials at Heritage Academy in Mesa, Americans United explains that a text used in the school’s mandatory senior government/U.S. Constitution class teaches students religious beliefs such as divine creation of all things, divine judgment after death and the Ten Commandments.
“Lessons promoting religious doctrines have no place in public schools,” said Americans United Associate Legal Director Alex J. Luchenitser. “Students in government classes should be learning civics, but Heritage Academy has decided to inculcate theology instead.”
The government class curriculum is anchored heavily in religion. Students are assigned Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land, which teaches that God created everything, is the source of all proper law, intervenes in human affairs and responds to prayer. The book further asserts that America’s democracy cannot survive unless its people accept a “universal religion” reflecting fundamental Christian tenets.
Proclaim Liberty, Americans United says, is essentially an abridged version of two other controversial texts that present similar religious teachings and had previously been used in the class, The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America.
Americans United further notes that students are not merely assigned religious material to read. They are also subjected to religious instruction orally, are required to memorize religious principles, and must complete homework and tests on those principles.
“In sum, we have confirmed that Heritage Academy’s mandatory government class for seniors teaches and promotes religion — through written materials, oral instruction, and assignments students must complete — in plain violation of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions,” asserts Americans United’s letter.
This is the third letter Americans United has sent to Heritage Academy. The first was mailed in December 2013 and the second in June 2014. Heritage Academy Principal Earl Taylor Jr. has denied any wrongdoing.
The letter asks for a response within two weeks and warns that Americans United is prepared to file suit if Heritage Academy does not cease its promotion of religion. The letter was written by Luchenitser, AU Madison Fellow Natacha Lam and AU Steven Gey Fellow Charles Gokey.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.