The constitutionality of religion-based charter schools: answering practical legal questions
Weinberg, Lawrence D.
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This study explores the constitutionality of religion-based charter schools. The method of analysis used hypothetical charter schools to answer legal questions. The answers are grounded in law using the latest precedent. The background material before examining charters sets forth both the legal and policy contexts of religious charters schools. The legal context includes a detailed analysis of the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution focusing on the most recent Supreme Court cases on that topic. The policy analysis examines the normative and structural dimensions of charter schools, which are then compared with voucher programs. The historical, political and educational contexts of charter programs are also examined. Three hypothetical situations examine a total of eighteen legal questions: Can coreligionists form a charter school? Can morality-based general propositions of good be taught in a charter school? Can a charter school teach values espoused by coreligionists? Can a charter school teach a course in the relationship between religion and morality? Can a charter school have religious criteria for staff? Can a charter school limit a teacher's right to express different worldviews? Can a charter school offer optional prayer? Can a charter school form for the purpose of allowing students' ease of access to religious education? Can a charter school form to provide students, who would otherwise attend parochial schools, with a free, secular public education? Can clergy sit on the board of a charter school? Can a charter school share facilities with a parochial school? Can a religious organization operate a charter school? Can a charter school have religious criteria for admission? To what extent can a religion class be taught in a charter school? Can a charter school require religious instruction? Can a charter school require religious exercises or worship? Can a charter school affiliate with a denomination? Can states exclude religious organizations from operating charter schools? Each question is analyzed from a legal perspective. The study concludes that charter statutes present an opportunity for parents and communities to form charter schools that will accommodate their beliefs; however, the constitution does not allow them to form schools that endorse their beliefs.
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