Somerville Refuses to Allow Local Church to Open Religious School Citing Religious Beliefs

Ever since the COVID lockdowns gave parents an abrupt and unanticipated window into their children’s classrooms, students and families have been flocking to private schools. For the academic year 2020/2021, private school enrollment in MA jumped by nearly 20% over the prior year. With the aggressive sexualization of even young children now openly taking place in many of our public schools, parents and churches are working together to open new faith-based schools for the children in their communities.  No child left behind, indeed.

Unfortunately, some parents are finding out that the same hard left activists who have taken over their local school committees, and who condescendingly dismiss their concerns as ‘bigoted’ or ‘hateful’, are also the people who, under MA law, get to decide whether or not those parents are allowed to open their own private school.  This has now led to a showdown in Somerville, MA, where a local church is facing blatant religious discrimination from members of the local school committee as they try to open a new private K-8 school. (These TikTok videos here and here are from one of those school committee members and show what parents are up against!)

Fortunately, we are working with our colleagues at First Liberty Institute to ‘educate the educators’ on the fact that it is still illegal to discriminate against a school because some committee members may disagree with the school’s religious beliefs.  The following press release just went out this morning, and it’s already been picked up by Fox News.  We must defend our right to start and build new schools for our own children!

 

                                                     

 

News Release
For Immediate Release: 3.29.22
Contact: Lacey McNiel, media@firstliberty.org
Direct: 972-941-4453

 

Boston, MA—On behalf of Real Life International (Vida Real) Church in Somerville, Massachusetts, First Liberty Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute yesterday urged Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and the Somerville Public School Committee to allow Vida Real Church, a largely Hispanic immigrant church, to open a religious private school called the Real Life Learning Center (“RLLC”).  The church first sought permission to open the school in September 2021, but members of the school committee have voiced opposition to the church’s religious beliefs.

You can read the letter here.

“It is illegal and unconstitutional for city officials to question the religious beliefs of Vida Real, let alone use those beliefs to stop the church from opening a school,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.  “This is blatant religious discrimination.  It’s time for Somerville officials to stop treating Vida Real unfairly and allow it to pursue the opening of a school.”

“The hostility displayed by the Somerville Public School Committee is outrageous.  The government cannot ban a religious school because they disagree with its religious beliefs. In fact, doing so violates federal constitutional and statutory law,” said Justin Butterfield, Deputy General Counsel at First Liberty.

Consistent with Massachusetts law, Vida Real submitted a detailed application to open RLLC for the school committee’s consideration in September 2021.  However, its application has been met with multiple roadblocks from the Committee, including multiple-month delays in considering the application and dubious accusations that RLLC’s application was incomplete or otherwise incorrect. The Committee also sent church officials a list of 35 questions that included hostile statements about the school’s proposed curriculum, including questioning whether RLLC could adequately provide instructions on various subjects because of its decision to teach its students in accordance with its religious beliefs and challenging whether RLLC should be allowed to teach a faith-based curriculum at all.

RLLC’s application has also been met with overt hostility by the Committee.  At a recent meeting of the Committee’s Educational Programs Subcommittee, one Committee member, Sara Dion, stated that denying RLLC’s application was the “morally right thing to do” and that the Committee should do “everything [it] could” to prevent RLLC from opening regardless of what the law requires.  She added that spending money on costly litigation to prevent or delay RLLC’s opening was “well worth it.”  The Subcommittee passed a motion recommending the denial of RLLC’s application.  The full Committee is expected to take up RLLC’s application at its April 4th meeting.

This is not the first time Vida Real has faced discrimination from local officials.  Last year, multiple police officers disrupted church services at Vida Real’s church in Medford, Massachusetts, when a Medford public health official demanded an investigation into whether the church was in violation of capacity restrictions related to COVID-19 mandates.  Local officials later apologized for the intrusion.

According to the letter sent today: “The Committee’s hostility against Vida Real’s religious beliefs violates both Massachusetts law and the First Amendment. . . . We write to you now in hopes that the Committee’s recent conduct stems from a misunderstanding of the law and the Committee’s role in evaluating private school applications from religious schools like RLLC. Based upon the relevant law, RLLC satisfied all relevant criteria for obtaining Committee approval.”

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