Denver Baptist School Accepted to Participate in the New Voucher Program

( [email protected] ) Nov 22, 2003 09:52 AM EST

Baptist School (SSBS) in Lakewood, Colo., has now become part of the new voucher program, which provides scholarships to students in poorly performing public schools who want to attend private schools, including religious ones.

The question to whether or not to accept the school to participate in the program had become a controversial issue among the school-voucher advocates and opponents since late October after SSBS, with a policy of expelling gay students, applied for the voucher program.

Initially the Denver Public Schools and the school district in neighboring Jefferson County rejected the application of SSBS because the legislation creating the program does not allow any schools that “teaches hatred” of any group and apparently SSBS was of those schools - SSBS used to be one of the many Christian schools that has the policy of expelling gay students.

According to the school policy, “premarital sex, homosexuality and sexual perversion” set as ground for expulsion and it was seen as constituting hatred of gays and lesbians in the eyes of public school officials in Denver.

In the late October the school officials denied SSBS the right to participate in the program but after a few days later Denver officials accepted the school into the program after the school changed wording on its application and its disciplinary code.

The code now reads, "Premarital sex and sexual perversion, between opposite and/or same sex students, will constitute grounds for disciplinary action, including suspension or expulsion."

The new wording means "the school isn't singling out a group of students -- homosexuals -- as the first, original application did," said Tanya Caughey, a Denver Public Schools spokesperson.

However, in a phone interview with Associated Baptist Press, the school principal said the policy's thrust won't change. "That hasn't changed, nor will it change in the future," the school principal, Rodolfo Gomez said. "Our board is in the process of evaluating our policy to make sure that it is strongly, clearly written to present a biblical position."

Gomez noted the policy is unfinished. He declined to say how the school would act upon a gay student who is not necessarily sexually active. He also said the school in nearly 40 years of existence has never had to deal with the issue of an openly gay student.

Last year, a closely divided Supreme Court declared that a Cleveland school voucher plan including religious schools did not violate the Constitution's ban on government support for religion. The Cleveland program also contained language banning participating schools from "teaching hatred of any person or group."

Justice David Souter along with three of his colleagues dissented that "teaching hatred" ban in the program "could be understood (or subsequently broadened) to prohibit religions from teaching traditionally legitimate articles of faith as to the error, sinfulness or ignorance of others, if they want government money for their schools."

Opponents of government money for parochial schools and other religious organizations have long argued that government funding would inevitably lead to excessive government regulation of such organizations, thus compromising their religious freedom. "As more voucher money becomes available, more religious schools will come to rely on it," said the Freedom Forum's Charles Haynes in a Nov. 3 column on the Denver controversy. "And as reliance on government aid goes up, religious liberty goes down."