The Freedom From Religion Foundation is raising red flags about a publicly funded Texas charter school chain.
Newman International Academy, which has frequently breached the constitutional wall separating state and church, operates a number of charter schools in Texas. In August, it is opening up yet another one inside Walnut Ridge Baptist Church in Mansfield. The charter school sponsor is Saint Servers International, a Christian organization run by the Rev. Lazarus George, who is the husband of Newman International Academy founder Sheba George.
Sheba George is an ardent evangelist. On a website for her proposed Newman George College, George explains that she has a "longing for the strongest spiritual revival the world has ever known." She goes on to elaborate that she "has a strong devotion to the Lord, a gracious spirit toward everyone coupled with a no nonsense, no spiritual compromise attitude." It appears that George's desire for a spiritual revival has warped her treatment of Newman International Academy in constitutionally impermissible ways.
For instance, under her leadership, Newman International Academy has adopted a blatantly religious school song:
May God bless our school
As we march to our tomorrows
And stand tall today with
Love, Faith and Hope
We rise to build our nation
With wisdom, statute and favor,
May God bless our school
Today and forever.
The Academy also promotes and endorses religious events in its schools and on its website. Its 2015-2016 calendar includes a school holiday on March 25 for Good Friday, an explicitly Christian holiday, a See You at the Pole event that the Academy described as "a day committed to global unity in Christ and prayer for this generation," and a schoolwide assembly for the National Day of Prayer. The Academy has also promoted a baccalaureate service for graduating students.
"Courts have consistently held that schools may not demonstrate a preference for religion over nonreligion by endorsing religious messages," FFRF Staff Attorney Sam Grover writes to Commissioner Mike Morath of the Texas Education Agency. "Newman International Academy's school song contains a direct appeal to 'God' to bless the school. This communicates an unambiguous preference for religion over nonreligion and Christianity's 'God' over the god or gods of minority religions."
Publicly funded charter schools, like public schools, have a constitutional obligation to remain neutral toward religion, FFRF points out. Newman International Academy can either receive state funding and operate as a public charter school entity subject to constitutional restrictions on religious promotion, or it can choose to operate as a private Christian school and not receive state funding. But it cannot operate as a state-funded religious institution.
FFRF is requesting the Texas Education Agency to outline the steps it is taking to ensure that Newman International Academy either complies with the U.S. Constitution or no longer receives state funds.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with nearly 24,000 members across the country, including almost 1,000 in Texas.