Community divisions are surfacing after a local Christian elementary school announced last week that it would require new and re-enrolling students to sign a statement assuring the school homosexuality is not a part of their home life.
On Sunday (Nov. 17), local broadcast outlets reported a small group of parents and students protested across from Myrtle Grove Christian School. The new policy will go into effect in the 2014-15 school year.
The school has yet to respond to repeated phone calls and emails with media questions about the letter, which stated in part: “The school reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant or discontinue enrollment of a student if the atmosphere or conduct within a particular home or the activities of a student are counter to or are in opposition to the Biblical lifestyle the school teaches.”
No other local Christian school has a similarly explicit requirement posted publicly online.
Several Christian schools had a non-discriminatory statement similar to this one from Wilmington Christian Academy: “Wilmington Christian Academy admits students of any race, color, national and ethnic origin to all the rights, privileges, programs, and activities generally accorded or made available to students at the Academy. It does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national and ethnic origin in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and athletic and other school administered programs.”
WCA does reserve the right to expel a student for any reason that lies outside of the “spirit” of the institution.
Coastal Christian High School requires a character letter from either a local pastor, youth pastor, teacher or principal as well as one from a non-family member.
The only school listing a required pledge is Joshua Academy, which has a Healthy Living Statement where parents promise to pack healthy lunches.
Ross Murray, director of news at GLAAD, said most anti-gay covenants in Christian schools are at a high school or college level. But he notes because the school is private, it can control who goes there.
“These private schools are within the law to refuse to associate with anyone who is LGBT identified, however just because it is legal does not make it right,” he said. “These schools are refusing to recognize the reality of people around them, opting to put on blinders and shun anyone who doesn’t share the same prejudice they do. These covenants or purity codes really express a distorted misunderstanding of what Christianity is.”
State representative Suzi Hamilton (D-New Hanover) called the policy “discriminatory” and raised questions of whether or not the school would be eligible for the state’s new opportunity scholarship program. That program, approved in the last General Assembly session, would fund scholarships for low-income families to attend private schools.
“This is discriminatory, and you can’t get public money with these practices. This throws us into a place where clearly we do need a law to protect same-sex couples,” she said. “This is another example of North Carolina being put on the map for intolerance. And it’s bad for business.”
The N.C. Department of Non-Public Education keeps a list of private schools statewide that meet the five criteria to receive opportunity scholarships – keeping test score, attendance and immunization records and being in compliance with health and fire codes. The scholarship program begins in the 2014-15 school year.
“We don’t look at individual school policies for opportunity scholarships,” said Chris Mears, spokesman for the NC Department of Administration.
Nationally, the issue of school vouchers going to private Christian schools with anti-gay policies has been the most visible in Georgia. In May 2012, more than two dozen faculty at Shorter University resigned, after the Baptist Georgia school instituted a personal lifestyle statement. Most cited disagreement with that requirement.
In its January 2013 report, the nonprofit educational advocacy group Southern Education Foundation found Georgia’s four-year-old tax credit scholarship program had spent millions in taxpayer dollars for private school tuitions and that 115 of those schools “have explicit, severe anti-gay policies or belong to state and national private school associations that promote anti-gay policies and practices among their members.”
A Rolling Stone Magazine report called “The Hidden War Against Gay Teens” in October stories of children who felt ostracized by their communities after being ousted from Christian schools when their homosexuality was revealed.
The Rev. John McLaughlin, pastor of St. Jude Metropolitan Community Church, said his membership was talking over the issue in church on Sunday.
Though the letter Myrtle Grove Christian School’s Principal J. Stacey Miller sent last week said the policy was not intended as “condemnation,” McLaughlin said he worried that “children are going to know about this policy and be taught from an early age the discrimination and hatred of gay people.”