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FIRST ON FOX: A Boston-area school board denied a Hispanic church’s application to open a private school because of animus against the church’s religious beliefs, lawyers claim, and the church is threatening to sue the school board if it continues to deny the application.
First Liberty Institute and the Massachusetts Family Institute sent a letter Thursday urging Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and the Somerville Public School Committee to allow Vida Real Church, a largely Hispanic immigrant church in the Boston-area suburb, to open a religious private school called the Real Life Learning Center (RLLC). The church first sought permission to open the school in Sept. 2021, but the school committee blocked it, and members expressed opposition to the church’s beliefs, particularly on creation and sexuality issues.
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“It is illegal and unconstitutional for city officials to question the religious beliefs of Vida Real, let alone use those beliefs to stop the church from opening a school,” Andrew Beckwith, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said in a statement first provided to Fox News Digital. “This is blatant religious discrimination. It’s time for Somerville officials to stop treating Vida Real unfairly and allow it to pursue the opening of a school.”
“The hostility displayed by the Somerville Public School Committee is outrageous,” Justin Butterfield, deputy general counsel at First Liberty, said in the statement. “The government cannot ban a religious school because they disagree with its religious beliefs. Doing so violates federal constitutional and statutory law.”
According to the letter, Vida Real submitted a detailed application to open RLLC for the school committee’s consideration in Sept. 2021. Yet the committee imposed multiple roadblocks on the application, delaying consideration for months and claiming that the application was incomplete when it was not. The committee also sent church officials 35 questions – questions the church considers “hostile” – including questions about whether RLLC could adequately teach students due to its religious beliefs.
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A committee report on the proposal suggested that the church’s religious beliefs would hamper its educational efforts.
“The school’s position on homosexuality and creationism make it difficult to see how a thorough science and health curriculum is possible,” the document read. “The school’s approach to student services and counseling appears to devalue evidence-based psychology and its emphasis on approaches rooted in the belief that mental illness is caused by sin and demons is unscientific and harmful. … Overall, the school was entirely contrary to the values of SPS and the idea of educating the whole child as being inclusive.”
The letter claims that the committee had a clear “overt hostility” to the application. It quotes Sara Dion as stating that denying the application was the “morally right thing to do,” and that spending money on costly litigation to prevent or delay the school’s opening would be “well worth it.”
“The Committee’s hostility against Vida Real’s religious beliefs violates both Massachusetts law and the First Amendment,” the letter warns. “We write to you now in hopes that the Committee’s recent conduct stems from a misunderstanding of the law and the Committee’s role in evaluating private school applications from religious schools like RLLC. Based upon the relevant law, RLLC satisfied all relevant criteria for obtaining Committee approval.”
The letter makes several public information requests and warns that, if the committee does not approve RLLC’s application by April 8 or if it rejects the application, the church “will pursue all available legal options.”
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Vida Real’s lawyers also claim that the church has faced discrimination from local officials before. In March 2021, police officers disrupted the church’s services in Medford, Massachusetts, when a Medford public health official demanded an investigation into whether the church violated COVID-19 capacity restrictions. Local officials apologized for the intrusion.