by Leo Thuman
The founding father, and signer of the Declaration of Independence, Samuel Chase once said that “religion is of general and public concern, and on its support depend, in great measure, the peace and good order of government.” It is almost certain that if the famous Marylander were to come back today, he would recoil in horror at the heavy-handed, anti-religious actions of his state’s General Assembly and Department of Education.
Those who pay attention to the news cycle should be aware of how disappointingly common infringements upon religious liberty are these days. One such predicament is the one which Maryland’s Bethel Christian Academy is facing. After being harassed and strong-armed by leftist activists and politicians, Maryland’s Department of Education kicked the traditional Christian institution from the state’s BOOST voucher program earlier this year. The reason for the expulsion, the Department claimed, was that the school had violated program rules against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Not only was their reasoning false, but it could hardly be further from reality. Bethel Christian’s student manual forbids treating students differently in admissions and grading on the basis of their sexual orientation. The real problem for the state’s bureaucrats lies elsewhere: in the school’s statement of faith. Bethel Christian believes in teaching children the traditional definition of marriage, and the school affirms that biological sex is a gift from God. In the absence of even a single complaint that the school practiced bias, it is clear why Bethel Christian was targeted — because of their adherence to the dictates of their institutional conscience.
The State of Maryland’s willingness to axe funding for low-income students to receive a quality education is horrible and possibly violates the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom. However, it is unsurprising when recent trends in Maryland’s educational bureaucracy are considered. Last week, for example, after once again being encouraged by far-left members of the General Assembly, the Department of Education announced that it was planning to expansively remodel curriculum to include the history of the LGBT movement in America.
This initiative makes Maryland a competitor in the latest ‘more woke than thou’ contest in public education, trying to catch up with Illinois and California. In said competitions, state legislatures jockey to achieve the most wide-ranging and polarizing curriculum mandates to teach on matters customarily entrusted to parental discretion. In the past, these initiatives aimed to institute “sexual education” coursework of ever increasing explicitness for students of concerningly young ages. In 2019, the main goal is to impose time-consuming and rigorous modules dealing with the history of the Americans who have identified as LGBT — a group who currently make up about 4.5 percent of the population (at a very liberal estimate).
Ultimately, these recent events show where the Democrat-controlled state’s priorities lie. To them, making children aware of the history of the various demands for state affirmation of particular sexual and romantic desires should be a top priority. On the other hand, they believe that a school which treats all its students equally has perpetrated vile bigotry merely by proclaiming their belief in the traditional family. This duality is deeply troubling.
These sorts of priorities wouldn’t be given free rein over education if Maryland’s General Assembly didn’t believe that their progressive agenda matters more than the Constitution, parents, and individual school districts. If the state had its own version of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it is likely this progressive agenda of secularization and sexualization of schooling wouldn’t be feasible statewide. Bethel Christian’s students wouldn’t be robbed of their vouchers, and parents would be allowed to opt their children out of controversial curriculum.
The majority of Maryland’s congressional delegation is not only supportive of, but also sponsoring, the overreaching “Do No Harm Act.” That bill seeks to all but repeal the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This sends a clear message: Maryland leftists are unwilling to be constrained by federal structures and have few qualms about undermining religious freedom to achieve their agenda.
Now, it is up to the federal judiciary to uphold the Constitution, and to Maryland’s pro-family activists to push back.