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Religious liberty and student teachers


WORLD Radio - Religious liberty and student teachers

An Arizona school district cuts ties with Arizona Christian University over its statement of beliefs

Arizona Christian University campus Photo courtesy of Alliance Defending Freedom

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Thursday the 16th of March, 2023.

You’re listening to The World and Everything in It and we thank you for joining us today! Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard.

First up: hostility towards a Christian university.

For over a decade, Arizona Christian University(A-C-U) has worked with the Washington Elementary School District to supply student teachers for classrooms in Phoenix and Glendale, Arizona. The school district gets classroom help, and the students get teaching experience they need to qualify for certification.

That suddenly changed. At a school board meeting in February, the five members of the board unanimously voted to not renew the contract.

Why? Board member Tamillia Valenzuela explains:

TAMILLIA VALENZUELA: While I full-heartedly believe in religious freedom and people being able to practice whatever faith that they have, I had some very concerned concerns regarding looking at this particular institution. When I go to Arizona Christian University's website, and I'm taking this directly from their website…[4:01] that above all else, it is to influence people to be biblically minded. How does that hold space for people of other faiths? How does that hold space for our members of the LGBT community? How does that hold space for people who think differently and do not have the same beliefs? At some point, we need to get real with ourselves and take a look at who we're making legal contracts with and the message that that is sending to our community because that makes me feel like I could not be safe in this, in this school district.

BROWN: Valenzuela’s colleagues agreed and unanimously accepted her motion to end A-C-U’s contract…despite no prior complaints against A-C-U or any of its student teachers and despite the fact that the board had just heard a report on a shortage of teachers in the classroom.

AUDIO: [Motion and vote]

REICHARD: Two weeks later, A-C-U filed a lawsuit in federal court, arguing that the school district violated the university’s First Amendment rights by terminating the agreement solely on the basis of religion.

Last Thursday, in light of the lawsuit and complaints from members of the community, the Washington district school board devoted an hour of its regular meeting time to a public comment period. What happened next was anything but regular. Here’s WORLD Reporter Steve West.

STEVE WEST: There were hundreds of people there, they would, they could only, they only allowed 80 people to come in and sit in the audience of the board meeting. And it was, in a couple of shots that I saw, it was pretty packed, shoulder to shoulder in that room. And then they, if you wanted to speak, you had to fill out a piece of paper, I guess, and put your name and other information on there. And they collected those. And so something like 70 people wanted to speak, they only had an hour, they chose at random 32 of those pieces of paper and allow 32 people to speak for up to two minutes each.

BROWN: Three out of four of those who spoke opposed terminating A-C-U’s contract.

Here’s one of those people…Erica Smith is a health technician for one of the schools in the district.

ERICA SMITH: Terminating the contract has created disunity and stirs up conversations that portray you in a negative light. Is that what you wanted?

REICHARD: This lawsuit looks similar to recent Supreme Court disputes that favored religious liberty.

WEST: I think about a case from last year, Carson v. Makin is a case where it had to do with state funding for provided for, I guess, tuition vouchers for schools, and the state of Maine was trying to distinguish between and give that to secular schools, but not to religious schools. And the court. And the court basically said, No, you can't do that. If you're gonna offer a public benefit, you have to offer it to both religious and secular school, you can't make that you can't make that determination that you can treat them differently. So it's a fair treatment out of the issue, for one, but it's also overt hostility toward religion. And that's like the masterpiece cake  shop case involving Jack Phillips, you know, the baker who, in Colorado, who his case went all the way to the Supreme Court over the fact that he declined to design a cake for a gay couple. And, you know, in that particular case, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission was openly hostile towards Jack Phillips’ beliefs and the Supreme Court overruled that lower case decision and sent the case back down based on that hostility.

BROWN: A-C-U now waits for the school board to respond to its lawsuit. Meanwhile, students from the university wait to learn if they can complete their required student teaching in public school classrooms.

WEST: They need these teachers in Arizona, and keeping these educators out of the classroom. Keeping them from practice teaching, is just overlooking the fact of this great need. In addition, like I said, there's no complaints here about these teachers. They're not in the schools to proselytize their schools, to teach, to really care for kids and to teach elementary school aged kids. So I think it's important to realize the great benefit that they provide to the school system.

REICHARD: Steve West is WORLD’s religious liberty beat reporter. If you’d like to read his article on this story, we’ve included a link in today’s transcript.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.


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