July 6, 2023

Thomas Ultican: Chartered to Indoctrinate

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Thomas Ultican takes a look at a new report on the rightward lurch of the charter school movement. Reposted with permission

Carol Burris and team at Network for Public Education (NPE) just published, A Sharp Turn Right” (STR). NPE President Diane Ravitch noted there are several problems associated with charter schools’ profiteering, high closure rates, no accountability…

“This new report, A Sharp Turn Right, exposes yet one more problem — the creation of a new breed of charter schools that are imbued with the ideas of right-wing Christian nationalism. These charter schools have become weapons of the Right as they seek to destroy democratically governed public schools while turning back the clock of education and social progress by a century.” (STR Pages 3 and 4)

STR focuses on two types of charter schools. One characterizes themselves as “classical academies” and the other touts “back to basics,” without noting they also employ the same “classical” curriculum. Both provide right-wing clues on their web-sites, alerting parents of alignment with Christian nationalism. Marketing is often red, white and blue, with pictures of the American founding fathers, and discussions on patriotism and virtue. Some schools include direct references to religion like Advantage Academy’s claim of educating students in a “faith-friendly environment.”

STR further clarifies,

“These schools are distinguished by a classical “virtuous” curriculum combined with hyper-patriotism for Christian nationalist appeal. They are exemplified by charters that adopt The Hillsdale College 1776 Curriculum…” (STR Page 7)

Using keyword searches, NPE identified 273 active charter schools fitting this description and noted they surely missed more. Nearly 30% of them were for-profit; about double the rate for the charter sector in general. Almost 50% of them have opened since Donald Trump was inaugurated president in 2017. (STR Page 7)

Apparently the school founders want to turn the clock back to the nineteenth century. STR states,

“Founders of classical charters view the rejection of modern instructional practices as a selling point. Proponents of classical education vilify the progressive movement, accusing John Dewey and his followers of removing Christian ideals and redesigning schools to achieve social goals.” (STR Page 9)

It identifies the largest charter school systems indoctrinating students with Christian nationalist ideology and discloses where they are operating. Discussing, in some depth, Hillsdale College with its Barney charter schools and the large number of new charter affiliates, the report asserts:

“What they all have in common is teaching Hillsdale’s prescriptive 1776 curriculum, which disparages the New Deal and affirmative action while downplaying the effects of slavery. Climate change is not mentioned in the science curriculum; sixth-grade studies include a single reference to global warming.” (STR Page 15)

The reality is today’s taxpayers are forced to pay for schools teaching a form of Christianity associated with white superiority; politically indoctrinating students with specific rightist orthodoxy. What happened to the principal of separation of church and state? This charter schools for indoctrination movement must be stopped before American democracy is sundered.

Church and State

James Madison proposed the Bill of Rights to codify protections not addressed in the constitution. In the first article, four freedoms are guaranteed – freedom of speech, freedom the press, freedom of peaceable assembly and freedom of religion.

In an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist association of Connecticut, Thomas Jefferson explained,

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.” (Emphasis added)

Katherine Stewart’s deeply researched book, The Good News Club, shares that tensions between Protestants and Catholics became fever-pitched in the 19th century. A student in Boston, named Thomas Whall, refused to recite the Protestant version of the Ten Commandments and was beaten for thirty minutes. In 1869, the Cincinnati Bible War over classroom Bible use raged in the streets. (Good News Pages 72 and 73)

Stress over religion in school mounted to the point that President Ulysses S. Grant in an 1876 speech counseled,

“Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate.” (Good News Pages 73-74)

Clarification of the Establishment Clause came in a 1947 Supreme Court decision over a New Jersey school board providing transportation costs for schools run by the Catholic Diocese. In Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Hugo Black stated in his majority opinion:

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining of professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.” (Emphasis added)

The 1962 Supreme Court decision in Engle v. Vitale ended prayer in school. This was not a particularly close call, with only Justice Potter in descent. Justice Black, writing for the majority, stated:

“We think that, by using its public school system to encourage recitation of the Regents’ prayer, the State of New York has adopted a practice wholly inconsistent with the Establishment Clause. There can, of course, be no doubt that New York’s program of daily classroom invocation of God’s blessings as prescribed in the Regents’ prayer is a religious activity.”

By the time Ronald Reagan was elected the 40th president of the United States, the “separation of church and state” had been firmly established.

America’s Riven Rights

Reagan’s nomination of the proclaimed originalist, Anthony Scalia, to the Supreme Court began the attack on the Establishment Clause. According to Jeffrey Toobin, author of The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court, Scalia maintained that the Constitution not only permits entanglement between church and state, but encourages it. (Good News Page 85)

Katherine Stewart observed,

“According to Scalia, the secularism of today’s liberals is really just another religion – and an unattractive one at that, suitable for the weak of mind and character. It is the creed of relativism, which says that no belief is better than any other, and no value is better than any other. This philosophy of religion is the genuinely immovable part of Scalia’s judicial philosophy in cases involving religion, and it has proven to be the real source of his disdain for the Establishment Clause.” (Good News Page 86)

Scalia was a lonely voice on the court until 1991 when President Bush appointed Clarence Thomas.

The first big break for the anti-establishment forces came in the case of the LAX Board of Airport Commissioners v. Jews for Jesus. In the case, Jay Sekulow defended the constitutional right to stand in an Airport and hand out tracks about Jesus. The case was not controversial. Sekulow achieved a unanimous victory but more importantly, the new legal concept of speech from a religious viewpoint being protected was created.

Stewart writes, “Henceforth, Sekulow would appear repeatedly before the Supreme Court, playing a song with just one note: religious activity is really just speech from a religious viewpoint; therefore, any attempt to exclude religious activity is an infringement of the freedom of speech.” (Good News Page 90)

When Center Moriches Union School District turned down James Dobson’s request to use their facilities for a religious film series based on a no religious groups policy, Dobson sued. Sekulow claimed they were engaging in speech from a religious viewpoint and in 1991, the court ruled for Dobson, based on freedom of speech.

The Rosenberger v. University of Virginia case was decided in 1995, favoring Rosenberger with a split 5-4 decision. University student Rosenberger had asked for several thousand dollars from a student activity fund to subsidize the cost of “Wide Awake”, a Christian magazine. The court ruled that denial of funding based on the religious message amounted to viewpoint discrimination. Justice Souter noted that the University of Virginia was directly subsidizing religion by paying for a magazine that exhorts its readers to convert to Christianity.

In 1996, the Child Evangelism Fellowship applied to establish a Good News Club at the K-12 Milford Central School. The New York school had a policy of restricting the use of its property by organizations and individuals for religious purposes. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in favor of the plaintiffs in Good News Club v. Milford Central School.

Stewart reports, “In his majority opinion, Justice Thomas laid out a philosophy that essentially destroyed the postwar consensus on the separation of church and state.” Scalia conquered with Thomas’s reasoning and said religion is such a complicated thing that the court should refrain from even attempting to define it. (Good News Page 95)

With their newfound allegiance, to the Free Speech clause the court majority created a dubious attack on the Establishment Clause. In Widmar v. Vincent, Justice Byron White observed:

“A large part of respondents’ argument … is founded on the proposition that, because religious worship uses speech, it is protected by the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment. Not only is it protected, they argue, but religious worship qua speech is not different from any other variety of protected speech as a matter of constitutional principle. I believe that this proposition is plainly wrong. Were it right, the Religion Clauses would be emptied of any independent meaning in circumstances in which religious practice took the form of speech.”

In this light, Stewart asks the obvious question, “Was it the intention of the country’s founders to include redundant or meaningless clauses in the Constitution?”


Time to wake up and smell the coffee; the modern Supreme Court is corrupt and needs reformation. Instead of deciding issues based on law and precedence, they create theories designed to support a political philosophy rather than showing fidelity to the constitution. This reflects a complete degradation of jurisprudence. The poorly formed decisions regularly undermine the rights and protections the founders bestowed on citizens; all while some Justices appear to be ethically compromised.

For the first time in American history, billions of taxpayer dollars are flowing to private religious schools.  The STR report shines a light on charter schools with religious agendas. Even more disturbing, these new taxpayer funded privatized schools are literally indoctrination centers, teaching a depraved political ideology.

This cannot stand!

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