A Massachusetts school board violated state law and the U.S. Constitution by refusing to allow a new private Christian school to open due in part to the school’s religious beliefs about sexuality and evolution, a legal group alleges.
Massachusetts state law requires all private schools to be approved by the local public school district.
Vida Real Church, a predominantly Hispanic congregation, had hoped to open a K-8 Christian school in Spring 2021 called Real Life Learning Center (RLLC) but failed to win approval from the Somerville Public School Committee in Somerville, Mass. The committee is composed of seven elected leaders, in addition to the mayor and the city council president.
First Liberty Institute, which is representing the church, sent an 11-page letter to the school district on March 30, alleging violations of state law and the U.S. Constitution. It was signed by representatives of First Liberty and the Massachusetts Family Institute.
The church had submitted its application in September 2021.
A report approved by the Somerville Public School Committee this year claimed the school “does not meet the criteria” for approval. Among other things, the report faulted the school’s beliefs on sexuality and evolution.
“The school’s position on homosexuality and creationism make[s] it difficult to see how a thorough science and health curriculum is possible,” the report said. “The school’s approach to student services and counseling appears to devalue evidence-based psychology and its emphasis on approaches rooted in the belief that mental illness is caused by sin and demons is unscientific and harmful.”
One committee member allegedly said that blocking the application was the “morally right thing to do.”
First Liberty maintains that the school meets state standards for approval.
“The hostility displayed by the Somerville Public School Committee is outrageous,” said Justin Butterfield, deputy general counsel at First Liberty. “The government cannot ban a religious school because they disagree with its religious beliefs. Doing so violates federal constitutional and statutory law.”
The school hopes to open in the fall. If the committee continues blocking the application, then the church “will pursue all available legal options,” the letter said.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.