Use Of Religious Book At Florida Charter School Would Violate Constitution, Says Americans United

Hebrew Language Text Promotes Jewish Faith And May Not Be Taught In Broward County Schools, Church-State Watchdog Group Warns

Use of a religiously themed book at a public charter school in Broward County, Fla., would violate the U.S. Constitution, according to Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United today sent a letter to Broward school officials warning that use of the Ha-Yesod Hebrew language curriculum at Ben Gamla Charter School would violate church-state separation.

Said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn, “Charter schools are public schools and must obey all the commands of the Constitution. The First Amendment does not permit public schools to promote religion.”

In the letter, Americans United Assistant Legal Director Richard Katskee wrote, “This textbook is replete with religious content, so its use in a public school classroom violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. We are writing to request that the Broward County School Board and administration disallow the use of this curriculum, and that you review all other materials to be used by Ben Gamla to ensure that they are secular.”

Katskee asserted that court rulings barring promotion of religion in public schools are clear.

“Although a public school may teach Hebrew as a foreign language, just as it may teach Spanish, French, or any other language, the use of the Ha-Yesod textbook in Broward County public schools cannot be squared with the clear constitutional prohibition against governmental advancement of religious views,” Katskee wrote. “For the Ha-Yesod curriculum includes translation exercises that endorse Jewish religious beliefs and present the Bible as truth.”

Katskee noted, for example, that the book presents for translation such sentences as, “God created heaven and earth,” “God will send us blessings from heaven” and “Mount Moriah is a holy mountain because the Temple stood on it.”

The Americans United letter insisted that the constitutional ban on public school promotion of religion is not motivated by hostility to religion. Rather, it protects the rights of individuals to follow their beliefs about faith.

“To put it simply,” Katskee wrote, “parents not schools have the right to direct the religious upbringing of children. Providing Broward County students with foreign-language instruction from a textbook that promotes religion infringes that fundamental right.”

Americans United has been involved with a wide variety of lawsuits upholding the religious neutrality of the public school system. In a recent prominent case, a federal court in Pennsylvania struck down the Dover School District’s promotion of “intelligent design” creationism.

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.

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.