ACLU of Michigan Challenges Charter School for Church-State Violations

April 1, 1999 12:00 am

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Thursday, April 1, 1999

DETROIT -- Acting on behalf of five parents, the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan today challenged a Kent County charter school for violating the First Amendment's protections of separation of church and state.

Vanguard Charter School Academy sanctioned prayer in the school, allowed the distribution of religious materials during class, allowed a nearby church to use its facilities rent-free to conduct worship, conducted a mandatory staff retreat with distinct religious overtones and taught creationism as an accepted scientific theory, according to the amended complaint filed today in United States District Court.

Vanguard Charter School Academy teaches children from kindergarten through seventh grade. Like all other charter schools in Michigan, Vanguard is a public school and must follow Michigan's code for public school academies. It is managed by National Heritage Academy, one of the largest management companies in Michigan.

The ACLU is suing on behalf of five parents of students at the school.

"Charter schools are public schools and so are bound by the constitution's prohibition against the establishment of religion. The evidence here is overwhelming that Vanguard has ignored this requirement to promote its own agenda," said ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss.

The ACLU is asking the court to enjoin Vanguard from continuing the illegal religious practices. It is also seeking damages for violation of the plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

The ACLU, the Michigan Education Association and other groups challenged the charter school law as unconstitutional in 1994. The coalition argued that the Constitution prohibits public funding of private and parochial schools.

The state Supreme Court held that charter schools, under the general supervision of the state Board of Education, are public. This is the first lawsuit challenging a charter school's practices under the Establishment Clause.

Cooperating attorney Kary Love of Holland is handling the case for the ACLU.

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