The Lawsuit Against Heritage Academy: What Really Happened?

By Benjamin Taylor.

Two years ago, a lawsuit was filed against our school, Heritage Academy. Although many of the students knew about this lawsuit, not much was commonly known amongst the students. Generally speaking, not much is known about it even today. However, knowing what happened is of great importance, especially since this is our school and this lawsuit affects us. So what actually happened?

First, it’s important to know who was behind the lawsuit and why. Actually, there were two accusers: an organization called Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and, according to the press release, “an anonymous parent, who has at least one child attending Heritage Academy” (Arizona). Why did these two entities try to sue Heritage? Rev. Barry W. Lynn, who is the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, claims that Heritage Academy is trying to “force faith onto its students” (Arizona). In an article featured on KJZZ.org (which is a service of Rio Salado College), the website version of the KJZZ radio station, Mariana Dale writes, “The lawsuit alleges Heritage Academy used religious lessons in its classes and in doing so, violated the U.S. Constitution.”

When arguing against Heritage Academy’s instructional procedures, those who oppose Heritage in this legal battle often cite the First Amendment of the Constitution, which says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” However, the First Amendment does not protect the public from religion, as Americans United claims; rather, it protects the public from those who would oppose or prevent religion. If anything, the First Amendment should give Heritage every right to teach religion, not take that right away. Obviously, it is not a good idea to use the First Amendment to argue against a school that so readily accepts it.

Why are there claims stating that Heritage Academy is teaching religion? Probably the biggest reason is that much of the curriculum for the U.S. Government class refers to religion as being necessary and significant in bringing about the United States of America. For example, a principle often emphasized in the U.S. Government and American History classes declares that without religion, the freedom of the people cannot be maintained. Those arguing against Heritage also point out that Earl Taylor Jr., the founder of Heritage Academy, “is known for his insistence that the United States was founded on ‘biblical principles’” (Arizona). Obviously, religion does not dominate every single lesson on U.S. Government, but it is a key component to what Earl Taylor, who is now retired, taught in his course. Because of the integration of religion into the U.S. Government course at Heritage Academy, Americans United likes to claim that Heritage “push[es] religion on students in its classes” (Arizona).

Although much opposition thrives, it’s important to note what people with firsthand experience have stated. In a Reddit post entitled “Lawsuit Filed against Heritage Academy, a charter school that slips in some Christian/Mormon Theology,” throwaway_elm, a former student, writes that even though he agrees that the school has a high concentration of religious students and faculty, “I cannot remember one instance where I have ever been preached to in class.” Additionally, while I have not personally taken Mr. Taylor’s U.S. Government course, I have been a student at Heritage Academy since seventh grade and never has any class that I have ever taken or teacher I have been taught by tried to push religion on me.

Despite the fact that religion is not forced upon the students, the curriculum of the U.S. Government course still has some disputable content. If this content is considered “teaching religion,” then what?

Unfortunately, the U.S. Constitution does not say anything about public funding and schools, which is what this specific example is about. That is one of the reasons why the U.S. Constitution should not be used to argue against Heritage Academy. On the other hand, the Arizona State Constitution talks about religion and public funding. According to the Arizona State Constitution, “No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment” (Ariz. Const. Art. II Pt. XII). Because Heritage Academy is a publicly-funded institution, it is, by Arizona law, restricted from promoting any kind religious instruction, which is why the plaintiff attempted to sue Heritage.

Some may argue that since the First Amendment says that the federal government, not the state government, is restricted from making laws regarding religion, Article II Section XII of the Arizona Constitution, which, again, states that “no public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment,” is valid. In addition to this, the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that rights not specified are reserved for the states. Does this mean that Arizona can entirely ignore the First Amendment? If so, then all citizens of Arizona could be restricted to only uttering three-letter words, because obviously freedom of speech doesn’t matter anymore if Arizona can ignore the First Amendment. But surely Article II Section XII of Arizona’s State Constitution is not a violation of the First Amendment! That would be unheard of; it would be insulting to the intellectually sound writers of Arizona’s Constitution! A sensible person would agree that just because something is absurd or insulting does not mean it isn’t true. Arizona’s Constitution is not entirely aligned with the First Amendment; it essentially creates a law concerning religion, which is the entire point of the freedom of religion Americans have as a result of the First Amendment. In fact, the whole idea of trying to keep Heritage Academy from using its own unique curriculum is completely against the notion of separating the church from the government. Because the Arizona government represses the freedom of religion, it is doing the opposite of what Americans United for Separation of Church and State wants. But what do Americans United want? Americans United for Separation of Church and State want what most people today refer to as “separation of church and state” (hence the name). What does that mean? Since most people don’t know where it comes from or what it actually means, the phrase is often misused. When Thomas Jefferson spoke of a “wall of separation between the church and the state” (Separation), he meant that religion would be protected from the government, not vice versa. Many people falsely believe that both Jefferson and the First Amendment said that the state should be shielded from religion; this is not the case by any means. Americans United, while having good intentions, is fighting against the whole reason for its existence while unintentionally wearing a mask of deception in the form of its name: Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

So now what? Shall we simply remove the portion of Article II Section XII of Arizona’s Constitution which violates the First Amendment? Will that entirely solve the problem? No, because it will not generate peace in the minds of those who angrily refuse to pay taxes to support something they do not agree with. No one wants to be forced to fund something they do not want to. So, if the best way isn’t to delete the part of the Arizona Constitution about religion and public funding, what is the solution to this problem?

In order to come to a middle ground and figure out the best way to handle this dilemma, the best source to look toward is one that both sides will agree has the answer: the Constitution of the United States. Looking at the Constitution will generate a wider and more knowledgeable perspective on the matter. Surely the Constitution will be the correct way to solve this problem, since both sides of the issue at hand claim to be strong supporters of it. In fact, not only must the Constitution itself be studied, but the principles upon which it was founded must be analyzed in order to comprehend the full depth and meaning of what the answer to the lawsuit is. For example, one of the subjects most often touched upon by the Founding Fathers is freedom (National). The more free the people of a country, the more happy they are, provided that they know how to stay free (National). So, instead of making new laws that have good intentions–or as Daniel Webster put it, “mean[ing] to govern well” (National)–every time a problem comes up, why not give the people more freedom? Why not, instead of forcing taxpayers not to pay to support “any religious worship, exercise, or instruction, or to the support of any religious establishment,” let the individual decide where to put his or her money? That would give more power to the people, which is the entire purpose behind the first ten amendments and the Constitution in general. Wouldn’t that be a better solution than taking away freedom? When one finds the meaning behind what the Founders of this nation did to create the Constitution, one can find many solutions to the nation’s current overwhelming burdens.

Following his Oath of Office, George Washington remarked, “I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the benign Parent of the human race, in humble supplication…so his divine blessing may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations and the wise measures, on which the success of this government must depend” (National). In addition, Daniel Webster said, “I regard it [the Constitution] as the work of the purest patriots and wisest statesmen that ever existed, aided by the smiles of a benignant [gracious] Providence…; it almost appears a Divine interposition in our behalf” (National). During the Constitutional convention, Benjamin Franklin produced a remedy for an excessive argument, which almost got out of hand, in the form of an invitation to seek Divine help. In other words, Franklin was the one who broke up the heated debate by saying something like, “Why are we all fighting? Shouldn’t we be seeking the help of the Almighty?” Because of Franklin’s actions in stepping in, the members of the convention were able to successfully finish constructing the Constitution. In addition to this, Franklin once said, “I can hardly conceive a transaction [the framing of the Constitution] of such momentous importance to the welfare of millions… should be suffered to pass without being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent… and beneficent Ruler in whom all inferior spirits live, and move, and have their being” (National). Although the writers of the Constitution spoke many more wise words on the subject of God and government, I will not write them all down; I think you get the idea by now. Obviously, the Constitution was founded on true religious principles, and those principles must be maintained, or else, as Samuel Adams puts it, “we shall in reality be the most abject [wretched] slaves” (National). If those vital principles on which this nation was founded must be taught to our youth, according to George Washington (National), shouldn’t every school have the curriculum which has received so much criticism? Even if Earl Taylor Jr.’s curriculum has plenty of references to how and why the Founding Fathers emphasized religion and morality, it is still true. The United States is slipping away from the freedoms it so lovingly enjoyed at its beginning because of the decline of the moral standards of men in the world. Because of this unfortunate circumstance, studying the words of and meaning behind America’s Constitution is of the utmost importance.

Finally, when asked how to fix a current U.S. issue that negatively affects almost every single American life, what do you think Earl Taylor Jr. would say? Undoubtedly, those against him would respond that Earl Taylor would preach religion and maybe even try to convert some to his faith. However, I know that this is not the case. I know that he would only speak of the Constitution and those who constructed it, sometimes quoting a Founding Father. When Earl Taylor talks about anything, it’s usually the Constitution and its principles. How do I know this? Because as his grandson, I get to hear him talk about these issues. Every time, he says something like, “if we followed the Constitution, this problem would be easily solved.” Then, he would explain exactly why and how the Constitution would fix the issue, and it seems so simple and easy to fix when merely looked at from a Constitutional standpoint. Earl Taylor rarely uses religious concepts when analyzing a predicament in the nation; he almost always uses the Constitution, and even Americans United, the very organization against Earl Taylor, would agree that the Constitution is the ultimate source of truth when it comes to political, governmental, and nationwide issues.

When the people observe Constitutional principles, they are a free people.

If everyone thought like Earl Taylor and saw things with a Constitutional perspective, the lawsuit against Heritage Academy would never have happened. It’s sad that some people do not understand how wonderful and unique Heritage is, and how brilliant and humble Earl Taylor is. If you think that I am biased and that I am only defending Earl Taylor and his school because I’m his grandson, that is fine; you will just have to contend with the facts. Here is the truth: we are losing our freedom, and the Constitution contains answers to the problems our country faces. If both sides of the lawsuit against Heritage Academy agree to go by the Constitution, they can reach a peaceful agreement together instead of fighting. For the nation’s real enemy is our own ignorance, which keeps us from reaching the true potential of the liberties given freely to us by the Founding Fathers of this country. As Thomas Jefferson stated, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty” (National).

 

Ariz. Const. Art. II Pt. XII.

 

“Arizona Public Charter School Promotes Religion, Americans United Says In Lawsuit.” Americans United for Separation of Church and State, 7 Sept. 2016, http://www.au.org/media/press-releases/ariz-public-charter-school-promotes-religion-americans-united-says-in-lawsuit.

 

Dale, Mariana. “Judge Dismisses Case Against Arizona Charter Schools Accused Of Teaching Religion.” KJZZ, KJZZ, 3 Nov. 2017, kjzz.org/content/560886/judge-dismisses-case-against-arizona-charter-schools-accused-teaching-religion.

 

National Center for Constitutional Studies. The Constitution of the United States. National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2015.

 

“Separation Of Church And State.” AllAboutHistory.org, http://www.allabouthistory.org/separation-of-church-and-state.htm.

 

Strickland, Ashley. “Planned Parenthood: Fast Facts and Revealing Numbers.” CNN, Cable News Network, 1 Aug. 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/04/health/planned-parenthood-by-the-numbers/index.html.

 

U.S. Const. amend. I
u/throwaway_elm. “Lawsuit Filed against Heritage Academy, a charter school that slips in some Christian/Mormon Theology.” Reddit, 12 September 2016. https://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/comments/52id9i/lawsuit_filed_against_heritage_academy_a_charter/.

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