Jun 25, 2014

A public charter school in Mesa, Ariz., violated the Constitution by using sectarian books as history textbooks for high school students, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a letter submitted to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools on Tuesday, the group argued that The 5,000 Year Leap and The Making of America, both by W. Cleon Skousen, teach debunked “Christian nation” history in addition to sexist, racist and anti-Semitic messages.

The tomes are used in senior history/government classes at Heritage Academy, a tax-funded charter school in Mesa.

"These books push ‘Christian nation’ propaganda and other religious teachings on impressionable, young students,” said Alex J. Luchenitser, associate legal director of Americans United. “They have no place in a public school curriculum.”

AU’s letter cites specific examples from each book.

“Reading the text of The 5,000 Year Leap easily demonstrates that the book does not merely acknowledge the influence of religion in the nation’s founding, but actively promotes and endorses specific religious views and ideologies,” the letter reads. “For example, the fifth of twenty-eight principles taught by the book is that ‘All Things Were Created by God, Therefore upon Him All Mankind are Equally Dependent, and to Him They are Equally Responsible.’”

In a section promoting “God’s law,” the book asserts, “For the purpose of order, the man was given the decision-making responsibilities for the family; and therefore when he voted in political elections, he not only cast a ballot for himself, but also for his wife and children.” The second book fared little better. “As in The 5,000 Year Leap, Skousen includes an analysis of the Founders’ ‘fascinat[ion]’ with Ancient Israel and tells the story of Exodus as if it is fact, citing heavily to the Bible,” the letter said of The Making of America. “He also repeats his claim that ‘the soundest system of government will be the one that is built on the principles of natural law and Nature’s God.’”The letter asks that Heritage Academy immediately remove the books from its curriculum, and that its charter be revoked if it does not comply. It requests a response within 30 days.

Americans United initially wrote the State Board and Heritage Academy about the textbooks late last year. In response, the school argued that the books merely taught students about religious influences on the nation’s founding. Today’s letter debunks that defense in great detail.

Americans United Legal Fellow Yael Bortnick and Luchenitser prepared the letter, with input from AU Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan.