It’s a Monday morning at one Nevada private school. After putting away their coats and books, students stand next to desks lined up neatly in rows, as their teacher prepares to lead them in the morning recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. With hands over their hearts, they begin:
“I pledge allegiance to the Christian flag and to the Savior for Whose kingdom it stands. One Savior, crucified, risen, and coming again, with life and liberty for all who believe.”
You see, the Pledge of Allegiance to the Christian Flag and the Pledge of Allegiance to the Bible are part of at least one Nevada school’s emphasis on teaching “Christian Americanism.” After opening exercises, students at the school will read one chapter of scripture, and later in the morning, they will begin their studies, which will be dictated by a biblically based curriculum.
And if Nevada lawmakers have their way, it could all be funded by taxpayers.
In June, Nevada passed a school voucher law that could funnel millions of dollars in public education funds to private schools, the majority of which are religious. Last week, the ACLU of Nevada, the ACLU, and Americans United for Separation of Church filed a lawsuit to block the program. On behalf of Nevada taxpayers — including public education advocates, a parent of a public school student, and clergy — we argued that the voucher program violates the Nevada Constitution, which unequivocally states that “[n]o public funds of any kind or character whatever, State, County, or Municipal, shall be used for sectarian purpose.”
Under the voucher program, there are no limits on how participating schools may use taxpayer dollars. Some private religious schools in Nevada teach creationism and that the Bible is the literal truth, dramatically diverging from state educational standards that govern publicly funded schools. Most private religious schools also require students to take part in prayer and worship services. At one Islamic school, for example, Friday afternoon prayers are mandatory.
Moreover, private schools will be eligible to take part in the voucher program even if they discriminate in admissions and employment. Students who do not follow the school’s faith or attend the church that operates the school may be charged more in tuition. Meanwhile, some schools simply reject outright any applicant who does not subscribe to their faith.
But wait, there’s more.
Other schools discriminate against LGBT students: One private religious school in Nevada requires students to “refrain from participating in worldly activities such as . . . homosexuality or other sexual perversions.” Another school prohibits pregnant students from obtaining abortions. A violation of these rules may result in students’ expulsion.
Voucher programs like this are not only bad news for children left in underfunded public schools, but — by coercing taxpayers to support religious indoctrination and discrimination — they violate our core understanding of religious liberty. No one doubts that parents have the right to send their children to these schools, but, under Nevada law, taxpayers should not have to foot the bill.
Nevada may be nicknamed the “Silver State,” but in the case of the voucher program, lawmakers have sold the public a bag of fool’s gold.