A 'carefully' secular public education

school prayerReligion and public education have never been completely divorced in the United States. Considering religion's historic involvement in education in Western societies, I doubt religion will ever be completely removed from public education systems in the United States. In fact, religion may be finding new ways to be involved in American public education. Consider the recent development in Toledo, Ohio, where a new publicly funded charter school, serving boys in the sixth and seventh and ultimately eighth grades tuition-free, is affiliated with a Catholic high school. The school will be located in a former synagogue building purchased for $1.1 million, but it's charter will not include a religious mission of any kind.

Here is how the local newspaper, The Blade, covered the religious aspects of this story:

Father Extejt said that the academy's focus would be to groom under-prepared students for the rigors of a college preparatory high school.

The school uniform would be dress pants and collared shirts with ties, and the school day would be extended to 5 p.m.

"This age group [of] boys are underserved in the Toledo community," Father Extejt said. "We find that to be true for many of our incoming freshmen in their inability to meet academic requirements. We fully expect to have students come to [Knight Academy] who may not be reading, writing, or able to do their arithmetic on their grade level."

Academy supporters also said that while the charter school's graduates would be welcome to attend St. Francis for high school, they would have no obligation to do so.

The article mentions that the charter school will be operated "without any religious mission." What that means is hard to say at this point and the article doesn't give us much information. At the minimum, it apparently means covering up the building's religious symbols during a $1.5 million renovation:

Mr. Tooman said that Knight Academy's renovation plans involve concealing religious symbols and writings that presently cover the building's exterior. The most prominent inscription above the entrance beckons visitors to "Seek Ye The Lord And Ye Shall Live."

The school seems set up as a sort of feeder school for the Catholic high school, but the charter school's backers maintain that students have no obligation to go onto a Catholic high school and could chose any high school they desire.

More information is needed to determine the significance of the establishment of this school, but it could open up some interesting doors in Ohio's educational system. Are there Muslim communities in Ohio that are interested in starting charter schools could be affiliated with the local Mosques?

Howard Friedman's Religion Clause blog phrased it nicely: "Ohio Charter School Plans Carefully To Remain Secular." How carefully secular does the school need to be to remain within the bounds of the law? What happens when other religious organizations, whether they be Christian, Muslim, Jewish or Hindu, asks for public funds to establish a "secular" education institution that will be affiliated with a mosque, synagogue, or church?

As for other jurisdictions, I know of charter schools in Indianapolis with loose religious affiliations. Christian churches, or people closely associated with Christian churches, have established non-religious organizations that have established publicly-funded charter schools that in name secular. Whether or not this is legally appropriate is certainly an issue for journalists to explore, but another worthwhile issue is why religious institutes are pursuing public funding models for their education institutions. What is the proper role of religion in America's education systems?

Please respect our Commenting Policy