Interfaith Alliance Mobilizes to Protect Church-State Separation in Public Schools

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Public schools play a critical role in communities across the country. Their open doors bring diverse communities of students together in one place where no student is turned away because of who they are, what they believe, or how they learn. But across the country and through many different strategies, an organized movement seeks to undermine public schools and our students.  

Over the past several weeks, Interfaith Alliance has taken substantive steps to protect our public schools and the students they support, including commenting on federal education regulations, and advocating for and against legislation alongside partners. Through work on Capitol Hill and beyond, we are committed to advancing an inclusive vision of religious freedom. Public education has always been a foundation for people from all backgrounds and identities to come together; we must protect that space so all students can thrive. 

Fighting Voucher Programs 

Public dollars should never be used to fund religious education. But private school vouchers transfer taxpayer dollars from public schools – open to all, regardless of faith – to private schools, the majority of which are religious. Using taxpayer dollars to fund religious instruction is contrary to the basic principles of separation of church and state. As part of the National Coalition on Public Education, Interfaith Alliance joined partners to oppose recent efforts to expand voucher programs. The coalition submitted testimony to the House Early Childhood, Elementary, & Secondary Education Subcommittee’s “School Choice: Expanding Education Freedom for All” hearing. The testimony asserted that “school choice” does not really provide a choice for families as private schools are free to turn away students based on sexual orientation and gender identity, religion, economic status, and more. 

Ensuring that every child receives a quality education is a top priority across the country. To ensure each child is afforded this opportunity, Congress must prioritize schools that serve students of all faiths, backgrounds, identities, and abilities. We urge our leaders to embrace policies that strengthen our public schools, and oppose attempts to redirect public dollars towards private institutions.  

Preventing Attacks on Transgender Students 

The movement to protect transgender youth from the alarming rise of anti-trans state legislation is strengthened by organizations like Interfaith Alliance and our partners who are joining together to take a stand against bigotry. In March, Interfaith Alliance called on Congress to reject legislation that would harm transgender students. With the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and nearly 200 organizations, we asked Congress to oppose the so-called Protection of Women and Girls in Sports Act of 2023. This bill is a brazen attempt to alienate transgender students from athletics programs in schools, preventing them from activities and communities that play a transformative role in the lives of children. The intent is despicable, and, if passed, the impact would be dangerous. 

Serving Students, Not Parents 

The Parents Bill of Rights Act is another legislative attempt to interfere with the student experience in public schools. Among some of the rights it would grant parents is notification of the presence of transgender students at schools, and the ability to review curriculums and reading materials. This would strengthen the path to success for other attacks such as banning books that talk about gender identity, Black history, and more. Interfaith Alliance joined over 200 organizations to ask Congress to oppose this bill, and uplifted a resolution that calls for safe, inclusive, and supportive schools. 

Protecting Students in Higher Education 

In March 2023, Interfaith Alliance submitted a comment on the Department of Education’s proposed change to federal regulation regarding how public colleges and universities protect students from discrimination. The Biden Administration’s proposed changes would overturn a Trump-era regulation that allowed religious student groups on campus to discriminate against students by barring them from leadership roles or membership in the organization. 

Students seeking higher education are often away from home for the first time. They are encountering new people, having new experiences, and discovering their own identity. Schools should nurture students throughout this process and ensure that community members of all beliefs, experiences, and identities can thrive. The change would protect students with marginalized identities from being alienated on campus, ensuring their right to believe as they choose is protected. True religious freedom cannot be realized when discrimination is left unchecked.

Learn more about our work to protect public education.