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Religious Charter Schools?


Has the time come for religious charter schools?, Lawrence D. Weinberg and Bruce S. Cooper ask in this Education Week Commentary.

It has in Minnesota. After the U.S. Supreme Court's 2002 decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which said that public vouchers could be used for students' tuition at religious K-12 schools, the state of Minnesota allowed a Muslim group to open the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy in Inver Grove Heights.

Schools in other states could follow Ziyad Academy's example, the authors say. They offer the following tips, and others, for religious groups that may be interested: create a separate, secular foundation to support the school; adopt a mission statement that includes specific educational goals unrelated to the religious or cultural purposes; and develop a curriculum that meets the school's religious, cultural, and educational needs.

In short, the school should be designed "to teach the ethics and history of the faith, but not to practice it."

What do you think? Can public charter schools have a religious orientation without violating the separation of church and state?


I think the example you give is why we should not allow such schools to use public monery. I don't want my taxes going to an institution that I believe is subversive to my religion. There is nothing in the muslim faith that allows for the tolerance of other religions, and in some muslim's minds this can reach violent perportions. A religion is a set of beliefs, and to teach those beliefs with tax money is not seperation of church and state. It does not matter if the religion is muslim, christian, jewish of any of the other belief systems in the world, one man's taxes should not be used to support a system in which he does not believe. We thought that it was appalling that the dictator governments that we have been against have changed their histories to match the regiems idea of how it would be in the best light to its citizens. How is this any different?

Jesus said: "You will recognize them by their fruits." The treatment of other religions by Islam must be judged by a simple test: How did the Muslim rulers behave for more than a thousand years, when they had the power to "spread the faith by the sword"?

Well, they just did not.

For many centuries, the Muslims ruled Greece. Did the Greeks become Muslims? Did anyone even try to Islamize them? On the contrary, Christian Greeks held the highest positions in the Ottoman administration. The Bulgarians, Serbs, Romanians, Hungarians and other European nations lived at one time or another under Ottoman rule and clung to their Christian faith. Nobody compelled them to become Muslims and all of them remained devoutly Christian.

In 1099, the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem and massacred its Muslim and Jewish inhabitants indiscriminately, in the name of the gentle Jesus. At that time, 400 years into the occupation of Palestine by the Muslims, Christians were still the majority in the country. Throughout this long period, no effort was made to impose Islam on them. Only after the expulsion of the Crusaders from the country, did the majority of the inhabitants start to adopt the Arabic language and the Muslim faith - and they were the forefathers of most of today's Palestinians.

THERE IS no evidence whatsoever of any attempt to impose Islam on the Jews. As is well known, under Muslim rule the Jews of Spain enjoyed a bloom the like of which the Jews did not enjoy anywhere else until almost our time. Poets like Yehuda Halevy wrote in Arabic, as did the great Maimonides. In Muslim Spain, Jews were ministers, poets, scientists. In Muslim Toledo, Christian, Jewish and Muslim scholars worked together and translated the ancient Greek philosophical and scientific texts. That was, indeed, the Golden Age. How would this have been possible, had the Prophet decreed the "spreading of the faith by the sword"?

What happened afterwards is even more telling. When the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims, they instituted a reign of religious terror. The Jews and the Muslims were presented with a cruel choice: to become Christians, to be massacred or to leave. And where did the hundreds of thousand of Jews, who refused to abandon their faith, escape? Almost all of them were received with open arms in the Muslim countries. The Sephardi ("Spanish") Jews settled all over the Muslim world, from Morocco in the west to Iraq in the east, from Bulgaria (then part of the Ottoman Empire) in the north to Sudan in the south. Nowhere were they persecuted. They knew nothing like the tortures of the Inquisition, the flames of the auto-da-fe, the pogroms, the terrible mass-expulsions that took place in almost all Christian countries, up to the Holocaust.

WHY? Because Islam expressly prohibited any persecution of the "peoples of the book". In Islamic society, a special place was reserved for Jews and Christians. They did not enjoy completely equal rights, but almost. They had to pay a special poll-tax, but were exempted from military service - a trade-off that was quite welcome to many Jews. It has been said that Muslim rulers frowned upon any attempt to convert Jews to Islam even by gentle persuasion - because it entailed the loss of taxes.

Every honest Jew who knows the history of his people cannot but feel a deep sense of gratitude to Islam, which has protected the Jews for fifty generations, while the Christian world persecuted the Jews and tried many times "by the sword" to get them to abandon their faith.

THE STORY about "spreading the faith by the sword" is an evil legend, one of the myths that grew up in Europe during the great wars against the Muslims - the reconquista of Spain by the Christians, the Crusades and the repulsion of the Turks, who almost conquered Vienna. I suspect that the German Pope, too, honestly believes in these fables. That means that the leader of the Catholic world, who is a Christian theologian in his own right, did not make the effort to study the history of other religions.

Why did he utter these words in public? And why now?

There is no escape from viewing them against the background of the new Crusade of Bush and his evangelist supporters, with his slogans of "Islamofascism" and the "Global War on Terrorism" - when "terrorism" has become a synonym for Muslims. For Bush's handlers, this is a cynical attempt to justify the domination of the world's oil resources. Not for the first time in history, a religious robe is spread to cover the nakedness of economic interests; not for the first time, a robbers' expedition becomes a Crusade.

Open your Mind and stop falling for the nonsense propaganda that if does not do anything it does create more divide. No where in the Qur'an God tells the Muslims to convert people of other Faith. No where in the Qur'an God tell the Muslims to kill Chritians and Jews. The famous verses that every idiot quotes talks only about "Kill them wherever you find them" is talking about the Pagans who drove the Muslims out of their Homeland and kept fighting them and torturing their families and stealing their families. It does not refer to Christians or Jews.

Wake up and Smell the Cupoccino

In this era of school choice, I see little problem with such charter schools. No one's children need attend a school that is not accordance with their own private beliefs. Such schools allow parents more choices, and can help all families find an educational climate that they are comfortable with, regardless of income.

It is interesting American tax payers are adamantly against such an educational opportunity as religious charter schools. The excuses these cacophonous, clamorous, obdurate individuals use are nothing short of ineffectual in education reform and opportunity. Our school systems were based, as was our country, on Christian beliefs and values. It is naive to believe private schools -- religious and otherwise -- are not supported by tax payer money. The schools require infrastrucuture beyond the school building including, but not limited to those services supported by tax payer monies. Antipathetic views regarding religious charter schools are inerudite at best. The American school system was established to provide an education for its children regardless of individual religious beliefs. Admittedly this has been an evolution throughout the history of our country. However, given the foundation of our school system, why oppugn an educational opportunity for families and communities who are willing to support it in every aspect? Why deny them?

I agree with A. Irons. This is a great opportunity for low income families to get the choice to send their children to a religious school. We practice freedom of religion in this country and we have a free education for all students, so why not combine the two and allow people to be FREE.

This is not about which religion promotes tolerance, or which was the most aggressive in history. This is about all of the problems that have arisen from violence done in the name of religion (any religion). This is why the founding fathers wrote and approved the amendment in the Bill of Rights, which we have come to call the "Separation of Church and State."

American public schools funded with tax payers' money (taxpayers of all faiths, or no faith)were established to further the ideas of democracy NOT any one religious dogma. Some of us have forgotten our mission with "school choice" and Charter Schools! Others set the specific agenda of furthering the establishment of "religious" charter schools so that public funds can be used support specific beliefs. This, I believe, is wrong. Charter schools, yes… but as part of the overall public system.

Let's stop confusing the issue about which religion says or did what. One day, I would like to see all public schools operate more like the best private institutions (site based, using best practices with high standards) minus the influence of any single religion. Let’s do what is in the best interests of EVERYONE in our country!

I think teaching religion is a fantastic idea, but to devote an entire site to it, even in secularized form, is taking things a bit far.

The concept of free public education is, as Martha pointed out, rooted in the founding value of democracy, not theology. We want our children to be given the tools to be the best citizens they can be, not the most spiritually enlightened.

If you want to give that gift to your children, you should certainly be free to do so. But to expect that public education should take on the role of providing them religious instruction is straying from our core principles.

And contrary to what Dee wrote, this is NOT a Christian nation. That would be a theocracy. This is a nation that happens to have a majority of Christians, and thankfully our constitution is not required to take weekly polls on who it serves.

the separation of church and state is not a part of the constitution. It is only in a letter written by one of the founders.

Response to R Worley
There are indeed several references in the Constitution from which the Supreme Court has created the body of law which is debated above. Sec IV Article VI states "no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States" Amendment I states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise therof" One can be of differing opinion as to the interpretation of these references, but it would seem that the founders were trying to keep religion from becoming too powerful a force in the secular world of government. They were trying to keep the new nation from combining in one dominating power both government and religion as it was in the European nations. The "Establishment amendment" has been interpreted that government money should not go to religious group which are not required to pay taxes in return. Unless we want to start taxing religious groups, the use of tax money should not go to any religious group. A "wall of separation" between Government and Religion which you must be referring to was indeed enunciated in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, but contrary to your statement, there is Constitutional restriction as to government support of religion. There is also Biblical proscription in the render unto Ceasar and render unto God scripture.
We have seen abuses in the current administration in which "faith-based organizations" have offices in the White House. They seem niggling compared to the much grander abuses existing, but can't be discounted.

Either the states must be "bursting at the seams" with extra money for education or some genius has discovered a "money well". Assuming that such charters would be inspected by state education agencies, visualize a new bureau of serious and scholarly experts in "The teaching of ethics and history of every religion without the practice of any of them".

Imagine the legal process surrounding the setup of such bureaus and each and every "School Review" done by them. This is a dream-come-true for a legal profession, lately, rebuked for excesses in the asbestos and post-Katrina actions "industry". The mind reels at any attempt to grasp, or even define the parameters of, the scope of this new class of process.

While no person denies that better results are needed in the education of children in the traditional subjects, some are now, according to today's focus on "Religious Charter Schools", ready to encourage another class of claims on the education purses of the states: "Oversight of the teaching of religious ethics and history of every religion in the world without actually practicing any of them."

It seems that some people will not be satisfied till the "Free Public Education" we learned about as teacher ed candidates is history, and the children of families who care about them either home-school them or delegate the task to a hodge podge system, totally controlled by the courts.

Ooops, could that be the goal of this mischief?

responce to m schroeder
your points are well taken the founders were trying to prevent a state run religion this is good but making the statement that the seperation of church and state is part of the constitution is wrong and misleading to the public

I believe that it would be okay under two conditions:

1. The school's curriculum, policies, etc. met the same standards as other charter schools.

2. Alternative choice/charter schools are provided that do not have such religious affiliations.

I believe that supporting well-rounded child development can include spiritual/religious elements, and see no reason (aside from political or legal ones) to exclude relgious/spiritual development.

R. Worley: To the contrary, the use of the words "separated" and "church" ARE, in fact found in the same sentence in the constitution, to wit: "...the church is separated from the state, and the school from the church." Yes, ok, the "constitution" to which I refer is the one for the USSR(1977 version, Ch 7, Article 52 although the 1918, 1924, and 1936 versions have, substantially the same wording with respect to THIS "freedom".) In the USA we have to depend on tortuous holdings of the Supremes to give us "separation". Next year "scholars" will probably find some way to try to get rid of the "10 Commandments" on various capitol Judicial edifices in the name of "separation". But, for the
time being, we have to concede that the Soviets had it all over us in terms of separating the church and state, at least, in their documents. If our own framers had it in their minds to actually provide for such a separation, they would have written it down for us to see. But, as it stands, if the framers HAD that intent in the late 18th century, it remains nearly as closely guarded a secret as their "intent" to establish the 2nd Amendment as a "group" right reserved to government entities, on government business.

It is clear that religious fundamentalists have had a long-standing agenda to break down the separation of church and state that has long been a hallmark of American civil liberties and rights. As a Jewish American, I have long fought against the over Christianization of our schools with the celebration of Christian holidays in the schools, making children of Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, and many other faiths feel particularly uncomfortable and unwelcome entering the doors of their so-called "public" school. It is shameful that so many Americans are completely oblivious to this situation and blindly call the USA a "Christian" nation. Where does that leave millions of non-Christians in our country?

No public school should be centered around one faith. Regardless of the fact that vouchers are now being used to pay for religious school tuitions, I and many other fair-minded Americans find this practice shocking. To now extend this to opening faith-based charter schools is extremely upsetting. If you want your child raised in a faith-based belief system, take him or her to your church, synagogue, or other house of worship, and have them go to religious school during the weekends. Don't ask me to pay for you to train your child in that religion. That is YOUR responsibility, not mine.

Response to Omar: While this does not relate to the news item about which you had written, dealing with religious charter schools, yet I cannot let your remarks go unheeded.

Take a trip to Greece, Omar, and ask the descendants of those who lived under Ottoman rule how "tolerant" and "impartial" the Islamic governors were. Ask them about memories of the Janissaries, young men taken forcibly from Christian homes to form the shock troopers of the Caliphs. Ask about the heavy tax that was imposed on Christians and Jews. Then journey to Armenia and ask about how Christians fared in an Islamic governed country in pre-World War I Armenia.

Should we mention contemporary Egypt and the plight of the Coptic Christians? Or the Christians in the current Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip? Omar, you need to revisit a factual account of history.

A very timely piece. To read more about the beginnings of the country's first Hebrew-English charter school, the Ben Gamla Charter School in Hallandale, FL, go to their website:


Publicly funded schools, school systems and their staff members are restricted by law from promoting one religion over another out of fairness to everyone's various beliefs.

To be fair to all beliefs, a school district that provides a charter school which holds to a particular faith would need a charter school for each religion that is practiced in that community.
It is discriminatory to only provide state or federal funds for one type of religious schooling. If I was a non-muslim parent in that community, I would be loudly protesting. The Supreme Court made a poor and unconstitutional decision ( yet again). By the way, we are free to point out the flawed judgement of our justices in this country!

Charter schools run by religious organizations seem to pretty clear mean that the state is paying for religious education. While I'm not against religious education, I don't believe that the state should be the one paying the bill.

The religoius school comes up repeatedly in any discussion of "school reform". It seems to be assumed that parochial schools, because of their faith base, are somehow more effective at educating children. There is unfortunately little comparative evidence on which to base such claims. Most graduates of religious schools remember the strict rules and sense of discipline. "It was good for me." is the thought that comes to mind.
Perhaps a generation or two of children should be offered up to the researchers as a study group. Simply find a few hundred similar children and send one third to a regular public school, a third to a charter school, and the last third to a religious charter school. Compare the achievement levels of each group after 12 years and that will give a clue as to the effectiveness of religious schools.
Seriously, the only group that benefits from religious education is the religious. It is not unfair to have only one faith-based charter school within a district if there is only one religious group that wants to run one and there are enough faithful students to attend. But wait, that is already the case with private parochial schools! Why start new ones, when there are plenty to choose from already? Vouchers to help with tuition would benefit both students and schools. The parents of the private school children are, after all, taxpayers too.

I think that it would be great to orient religion into the charter schools. When prayer was removed that's when we started having problems in our schools.

What people fail to admit is that we already have religious public schooling alive and well in our country. The religion of the American school system is a secular view of history, biology, and the humanities that systematically removes references to God. The name for this religion is atheism.

Few areas of public life have as much interest to Americans than religion and politcs. Both impact our lives greatly and when any one religion or sect appears to have a favored position, it is immediately unfair to all other religions/sects. There is nothing at all wrong with religious schools, but they should be private schools and not be funded as public schools. A voucher system that essentially gives back some money to a taxpayer that chooses to send their child to a private school helps to alleviate some of the burden on that taxpayer fro funding public schools that their child does not attend. Such a voucher however, does not help the taxpayers that have no children in school at all. Thus, again an unfairness develops.
It is fine with me to mention God in schools, and on money, stamps, whatever. There is certainly nothing wrong with moral training and spirituality is closely linked with creativity. Hence it is okay to use religion as examples and to compare and contrast religious views. If a football or basketball team feels strongly that a little pryer will benefit thei chances of winning a match, who is hurt?
I have to disagree with Robert. Atheism is not the religion of the public school system despite the seeming removal of God from the schools. Removing a word does not remove a spirit or faith. God is alive and well in both the public and private sectors of our society. What is lacking is common sense.

I am the official monitor for the Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy charter school referenced in the article during its 4 year existence. It is not a religious school. It uses standard curriculum materials. It teaches Arabic and is sensitive to cultural and historic references. Parents send their children to get an excellent education for life in a democracy and to escape discrimnatory practices they encountered in other schools. I am absolutely opposed to any religious prosletizing in a public school and charter schools are public.


On “Separation of Church and State”:

Obviously you seem to know little or nothing (or choose to ignore or misinform) about the true history of the Public Education System in America. The reason public schools were created was to ‘teach children to write, read, math and the Bible’, (religion, morality and knowledge”). Christian values were part of the American public education system since its beginnings. Such separation of church and state has been a gross misinterpretation of the original intent and has nothing to do with promoting secularism in America. One of the main goals of the educational system in America was to promote the Christian values and faith. Even recognized universities such as Harvard were originally Seminary Schools established to prepare students in all areas of life but ‘mainly’ to teach the Bible. For more on the history of America’s Education: http://www.dthamerica.com/about/index_261.cfm

On “Christianization of our schools”:

Rather, what has been happening is not a ‘christianization’ of “our schools” as you put it, but the opposite. Our public schools have been slowly “de-christianized” for the past 30-40 years but it was not ever so. The American public school system always had a Christian foundation. It is sad to see how people who came to America with ‘their’ religions, instead of adjusting to the values and practices of this nation, as a Christian nation, want to change it to fit their own ideals and work very hard to throw overboard the history, principles, values, and practices of those who were here first, those who made and established this country such as the pilgrims and our founding fathers.

On “The Shamefulness of being called a Christian Nation”:

What is really shameful is the sad fact that many Americans have bought into the lie about this nation not being a Christian nation with no historical Christian background and its foundation based on biblical principles. The truth is that this country has always being a Christian nation because Christianity has been and is the predominant religion of the land although other religious beliefs exist. Just as Turkey is an Islamic nation because that is the predominant religion of the land although other religious beliefs (as Christianity) are permitted, so it’s here. The same goes for Israel - That is a “Jewish nation” because the majority of the citizens are of the Jewish religion. Are we to complain that calling Israel a “Jewish nation” is not right because “Where does that leave the Christians, Muslims and other religions (non-Jewish) that live in Israel? That’s nonsense and childish!

On “No public school should be centered around one faith”:

The very purpose for creation and existence of the American Public School System was to promote knowledge through the Bible, its main textbook. For the American Public School System, as the nation itself, the Christian faith was a major part of its foundation. Why is it so bad now, because atheists and other religious groups object to the teachings of the Bible? Well, they could have always opted “out” of Bible class. That’s all.

Tax money was always used to fund the public schools and for almost 200 years no one thought it was unconstitutional, but some how NOW it is. It’s curiously mind baffling to think how is it possible that the framers and writers of the constitution who practiced religion freely, who preached, sang, prayed and “had church” in the capitol building and allowed for public funds to pay for public schools where the main textbook was the Bible, have all of the sudden become “unconstitutional” – that’s like saying that God, who inspired the Bible (Old and New Testament) is ungodly.

Things that make you go hummmm?

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