Ariz. Public Charter School Promotes Religion, Americans United Says In Lawsuit

Heritage Academy In Mesa And Other Communities Teaches Faith Instead of Government, Says Church-State Watchdog

A public charter school in Arizona is violating the U.S. Constitution and Arizona Constitution by pushing religion on students in its classes, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says.

In a federal lawsuit filed today, Americans United says that Heritage Academy, which has campuses in Mesa, Queen Creek and Laveen, uses a textbook in its mandatory American government class for seniors that teaches students religious concepts such as creationism, divine judgment after death and the Ten Commandments. The public charter school also teaches religious principles through other class curricula.

“Heritage Academy is a public charter school that receives money from taxpayers,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “That means it cannot force faith onto its students. Rather than teaching the U.S. Constitution in government classes, Heritage Academy is violating the constitutional mandate of separation of church and state.”

In its lawsuit, Americans United explains that the Heritage government-class curriculum is rooted in religion. Students are required to use the textbook Proclaim Liberty Throughout all the Land, which teaches that God created all life, is the source of all proper law, intervenes in human affairs and responds to prayer. The book also claims that democracy in the United States will perish if Americans do not accept a “universal religion” based on Christianity. This book is published by the National Center for Constitutional Studies, a group founded by Earl Taylor Jr., Heritage’s principal, who is known for his insistence that the United States was founded on “biblical principles.”

Americans United notes that students are not merely asked to read religious material. They are also subjected to verbal religious instruction, are forced to memorize religious principles, and are given homework and tests on those concepts.

Beyond that, students are even encouraged to proselytize.

“In a transparent attempt to proselytize the school’s religious views, Heritage Academy students are further taught that they are duty-bound to implement and instruct others about these religious and religiously based principles in order to restore the United States to ‘freedom, prosperity, and peace,’” Americans United asserts in the lawsuit.

The plaintiffs in this case are an anonymous parent, who has at least one child attending Heritage Academy, and the Rev. David Felten, head pastor of The Fountains, a United Methodist Church in Fountain Hills, Ariz.

The lawsuit, Doe v. Heritage Academy, is being litigated by Americans United Legal Director Richard B. Katskee and AU Madison Fellow Carmen Green, John Nadolenco and Kristin Silverman of Mayer Brown LLP and Roopali Desai and D. Andy Gaona of Coppersmith Brockelman PLC.

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.