May 2019 Church & State Magazine - May 2019

Memphis Public Schools Adopt ‘Morality Clause’ In Rentals

  Rob Boston

Public school officials in Shelby County, Tenn., are under scrutiny after they agreed to adopt a “morality clause” as a condition of renting buildings from the Roman Catholic diocese of Memphis. The buildings formerly housed private Catholic schools, which are slated to close later this year. They will become public charter schools operated by an entity called New Day Schools, reported the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

The rental contract includes a statement reading, “Tenant shall not … directly advocate, promote, teach or support a position considered gravely immoral by the Roman Catholic Church at the Premises as determined by the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Memphis.” The contract goes on to say that if the charter school violates the restriction, the church “shall have the right to notify Tenant of the violation and require Tenant to cease or cure the violation” or evict the school.

Charles Haynes, founding director of the Religious Freedom Center in Washington, D.C., called the arrangement problematic. 

“A public school is a public school,” Haynes said. “It may not in any way be entangled with a religious group that in any way limits what it can and cannot teach. That’s clearly unconstitutional.”

The Center for Inquiry, a humanist group based in Amherst, N.Y., has written to education officials in Tennessee expressing concern about the rental contract. 

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