Charter schools have become more open to religious sponsorship and inspiration as they have expanded to most U.S. states — a development leading to a new round of church-state battles.
Church & State, a magazine promoting strict church and state separation (June), reports that charter schools and their supporters are finding themselves in court battles and other conflicts with parents who claim that the curricula in many of these school are “pervasively religious.” At the center of the controversy are the Waldorf Schools, which are run by Anthroposophy, an esoteric spiritual movement founded by mystic Rudolph Steiner.
About 30 of these schools are operating as publicly funded charter schools (many in California).Their emphasis on the importance of the spirit world and alternative teaching methods have brought together a coalition of evangelicals (who claim Anthroposophy is a cult) and church-state separationists to file a suit against the group.
Other cases of charter schools drawing on religious teachings have included black Christian, evangelical and Islamic groups. Jeremy Leaming writes that some of these schools have run into trouble with the law over misappropriation of state funds. A charter school in Houston, Tex., run by the Greater Progressive Tabernacle Baptist Church is being investigated for using much of the state money for the enrichment of the church and its pastor.
Leaming concludes that the charter movement has in effect “opened secondary education doors to many groups of people–some looking to make money, others intending to bring religion or varying philosophies into the schools to combat the religiously neutral approach of traditional public schools.”
(Church & State, 518 C Street, N.E., Washington, DC 2002)