A recent report in the Indianapolis Star just warmed the cockles of my heart. (And before you ask, no, I have no idea what “cockles” are.)
Here’s what made me smile:
With the Indiana General Assembly back in session, one state lawmaker says he still intends to introduce legislation that would block public dollars from going to private schools that engage in discriminatory hiring practices.
The proposal by Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, comes in the wake of discrimination charges lobbed at Roncalli High School, a Catholic school overseen by the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Forestal said he wants to see strings put on the state’s voucher program, which uses public dollars to offset to cost of tuition at Roncalli and other participating K-12 private schools.
I’ve written before about Indiana’s voucher program, which is by far the largest in the country, and the damage it is inflicting. The funds supporting the program would otherwise go to Indiana’s chronically under-funded public schools; research confirms that the private schools participating in the voucher program have failed to improve the academic performance of the children attending them (that they would do so was the original justification for the program); and the program is a thinly-veiled constitutional “work-around” that permits tax dollars to flow to religious institutions. (Some 90% of participating private schools are religious.)
The bill that Representative Forestal proposes to introduce addresses another glaring defect of the voucher program: the lack of standards imposed on participating schools.
A colleague and I recently surveyed voucher programs operating around the U.S., in order to see whether any of those programs required participating schools to teach civics. You will probably not be surprised to learn that none did. I’m relatively confident that if we conducted a follow-up survey, we would be equally unable to find programs imposing non-discrimination requirements. Any nondiscrimination requirements, not just those protective of LGBTQ students and faculty.
There is something very disturbing about taking money away from our public schools and sending it to religious schools without attaching any meaningful conditions. Taxpayers may well be funding schools that teach creationism, that refuse to teach evolution, and that discriminate against students and faculty members who violate tenets of their theologies. (In Louisiana, schools participating in that state’s voucher program were found to be doing all of these things.)
Representative Forestal’s intended legislation was prompted by a widely-publicized incident at Roncalli High School (from which Forestal graduated). Roncalli is one of the largest recipients of vouchers in Indiana.
Two guidance counselors at the school have filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after they said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. The Archdiocese has denied these charges.
Shelly Fitzgerald was suspended from her job in August after her marriage certificate was presented to school administration. Fitzgerald, who has worked at Roncalli for 15 years, has been in a same-sex relationship for 22 years. She and her wife, Victoria, were married four years ago.
Lynn Starkey has been in a civil union with her spouse since 2015 and worked at Roncalli for nearly 40 years.
The school and Archdiocese have said in public statements that employees must support the teachings of the Catholic Church, including marriage being “between a man and a woman.”
Religious exemptions to civil rights laws allow them to impose such rules–when they are spending their own money.
One of the most basic purposes of the Establishment Clause was to prevent tax dollars from supporting religion. That prohibition makes even more sense today. In a diverse country, taxpayers of various faiths and none should not be forced to support beliefs inimical to their own, and definitely should not see their tax dollars sent to institutions that turn around and discriminate against them.
Forestal said it best:“If you choose to discriminate, public dollars should not go to your school.”
Good luck, Representative Forestal!