Church’s proposal to open private school blocked & mocked by public school board committee due to religious beliefs

A Massachusetts public school district committee is poised to deny a church’s request to open a Christian school due in part to the group’s religious views of sexuality and creation. 

Vida Real Church is located in a large Hispanic immigrant community in Somerville, a Boston suburb. Noticing a need for a Christian school in the community, the church drafted a proposal to open Real Life Learning Center (RLLC). 

The state requires such proposals be approved by local public school committees. But last month a subcommittee reviewing the proposal recommended the committee deny the church’s request. This came after the original proposal was submitted last September, its review delayed, and then ruled “deficient” with a requirement to resubmit in November. 

In a report from the subcommittee, the church’s biblical views of homosexuality and creation were cited as problematic.

“[Vida Real Church’s] position on homosexuality and creationism make it difficult to see how a thorough science and health curriculum is possible,” the subcommittee report stated. “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.”

The subcommittee’s report and statements made between committee members have been released in a joint letter to the district from First Liberty and Massachusetts Family Institute, which are defending Vida Real Church.

The letter accuses Somerville of religious discrimination and denying the church’s First Amendment rights. “[T]he Committee has expressed hostility towards Vida Real’s religious beliefs, and multiple Committee members have stated that RLLC’s desire to create a curriculum consistent with its religious beliefs is grounds for denying its private school application.”

The letter also details mocking statements from committee member Sara Dion:

Ms. Dion: (1) equated teaching sincerely-held religious beliefs regarding creationism to teaching that ‘2 + 2 = 5’ and described creationism as being ‘factually incorrect’; (2) stated she ‘would not be able to look herself in the mirror’ if a school teaching according to Vida Real’s religious beliefs were allowed to open; (3) criticized RLLC’s desire to admit only Christians and RLLC’s heavy reliance upon books written from a Christian perspective; (4) reiterated previous hostile comments regarding Vida Real’s beliefs regarding counseling and sexual morality.

In a statement to The Lion, Superintendent Mary Skipper and School Committee Chair Andre Green express disagreement about the “characterizations” of the letter and say the district “does not discriminate on the basis of religion or any other protected class.”

The Somerville committee will convene again this month to make a final decision. If Somerville denies the church’s proposal, First Liberty and Massachusetts Family Institute say they “will pursue all available legal options” on behalf of Vida Real Church.