Due to federal policy changes, private Christian schools may soon have serious decisions to make.
One example is the Pre-K through 8th grade church-affiliated St. John’s Lutheran School in Baraboo, Wisconsin. It has 147 students and 10 teachers. It accepts federal money to provide subsidized school lunches, bus services, and other programs for its students.
Since President Barack Obama’s recent policy changes concerning Title IX on restrooms, St. John’s is now faced with the choice to reject federal money or change its policies.
In an attempt to find middle ground, St. John’s resolved to allow homosexual or transgender students to attend while maintaining the right to discipline the students sinful behavior as defined in the Bible as it does the entire student body population.
In February, the school instituted paperwork discussing new policies for the upcoming year.
St. John’s parent handbook encourages parents to attend church and to reflect biblical morality as standards for their children.
“No matter where we are, our students will want to reflect Christian conduct,” it says.
Within the parent handbook, administrators express standards of immoral behavior, including “scandalous conduct on or off campus which is a serious violation of Christian behavior (including premarital sex, homosexuality, use of illegal substances).”
In a letter sent to parents principal Craig Breitkreutz wrote, “St. John’s Lutheran School is considered a Title IX school in that we receive public funding through the lunch program, busing, and through NCLB (No Child Left Behind)… The Office of Civil Rights now also protects from discrimination against sexual preference and gender identification.”
“If we cannot legally refuse students who are struggling with homosexuality or gender identification, we must maintain our right to hold to the truths of God’s Word,” he said.
The school requests a copy of each child’s birth certificate in the new school policy to identify the child’s gender.
Describing the school’s policy Breitkreutz describes two ways they want to promote biblical standards.
“First, we have revamped our admissions policy to include the handbook agreement as well as religious orientation for all new students,” he explained. “Second, we have revised our discipline policy to more specifically state which behaviors are not acceptable and can lead to dismissal.”
“In other words, although we do not have the right to refuse admittance to people choosing an outwardly sinful lifestyle, we do maintain the right to discipline and dismiss students for these choices,” he said.
The Wisconsin-based Freedom From Religion Foundation filed a discrimination complaint in response.
“The letter informed parents about issues related to gender identity and sexual orientation and said that the school was requesting birth certificates for students to enroll. It makes clear that the school does not intend to allow [homosexual] students to attend,” they said.
Opponents of the school’s right to create policies in line with church’s doctrine argue the schools cannot discriminate against students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It is problematic for a school that receives federal funds to discriminate against students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Patrick Elliott, the attorney and writer of FFRF’s complaint in an interview with Baraboo News Republic.
“Schools that are supported with taxpayer money must comply with minimum civil rights standards. St. John’s Lutheran School has indicated that it will dismiss students on an illegal basis under federal law,” Elliott went on to say.
On St. John’s website, under Philosophy of Education, it states the schools mission:
“Christian education exists so that we can teach our children about God and how to lead God-pleasing lives. We can only find instructions on how to do this in the Bible,” it reads.
“At St. John’s, we believe that the whole educational experience must be taught in light of God’s Word. The Bible must be our main authority. Therefore all subjects are taught from a Christian viewpoint. We follow the command of Jesus to teach the truths of the Bible to all people, so our students are also taught how to share this precious message,” the mission statement also said.
When the issue of Title IX and federal funding comes into play, Christian administrators of private Christian schools across the country receiving federal aid will begin to make decisions. Will they continue accepting the federal funding for lunches, or will they reject it?
Children and parents have various education opportunities within their home states. At the same time, private christian schools, whether or not they receive federal funding, still maintain the right to religious freedom and the ability practice it.