The Freedom From Religion Foundation has persuaded a North Carolina charter school to address numerous constitutional violations.
A Winston-Salem, N.C., resident reported to the state/church watchdog that Quality Education Academy is a public charter school being run like a private Christian school, regularly promoting religion to its students. The complainant reported that each Wednesday, the academy holds a schoolwide assembly where the entire school population prays together and chants “We believe in God.” All students were reportedly expected to participate in this religious exercise.
Additionally, prayer was also apparently a regular part of official Quality Education Academy events. For example, an awards ceremony that took place last November opened with a Christian prayer:
Please bow your head and close your eyes. Dear Heavenly Father, we come for you today and thank you for everything you have given us. I ask for each and every person here to keep safely. In Jesus’ name I do pray, amen.
The fact that the school was being run like a Christian school was confirmed by the official parent/student handbook. Quality Education Academy’s mission refers to developing each student’s “spiritual” potential to the fullest and mentions utilizing “churches in the education of children.” The handbook explicitly states, “We the students of QEA believe in God.” The handbook even includes a list of “Ten Commandments,” the first of which is “We believe in GOD, the creator of all things.”
It is well-settled law that a charter school receiving public taxpayer funding may not use those funds to advance or endorse religion. Furthermore, North Carolina’s laws governing charter schools are clear on this matter, stating that “a charter school shall be nonsectarian in its programs… and all other operations.” FFRF Legal Fellow Christopher Line wrote to the district alerting it to the illegality of its practices and policies.
“Quality Education Academy must provide a secular environment to its students,” Line wrote to school CEO Simon Johnson. “It must ensure that the school is not promoting prayer, religious programming or religious indoctrination.”
The charter school has responded to FFRF’s requests with assurances that the school has addressed these violations.
“We have conferred with our legal counsel and understand that faculty and staff are not permitted to lead any form of prayer or religious activities during the instruction day,” the district wrote to FFRF. “Quality Education shall take all reasonable efforts to remain in compliance with federal and state legal laws.”
FFRF is pleased the district has taken the complaint seriously and hopes it will continue to address these issues to ensure its students’ rights of conscience are not being infringed.
“The laundry list of violations occurring at Quality Education Academy was extensive and egregious,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “Schools cannot waste valuable instructional time indoctrinating students with religious prayer, especially not on taxpayer dollars.”
The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with more than 31,000 members and several chapters across the country, including over 600 members and a chapter in North Carolina. FFRF’s purposes are to protect the constitutional principle of separation between church and state, and to educate the public on matters relating to nontheism.