AZ School Board Accused of 'Blatant Religious Discrimination' for Rejecting Christian Teachers
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For the past 11 years, Arizona Christian University and the Washington Elementary School District in the Phoenix and Glendale areas of Arizona had a partnership where ACU students could student-teach in the district's public schools.
Weeks ago, that relationship ended when the school board cut ties because of the university's biblical beliefs.
"While I full-heartedly believe in religious freedom and people being able to practice whatever faith that they have, I had some very concerned concerns regarding looking at this particular institution," said Washington Elementary District School Board Member Tamillia Valenzuela.
In February, the five-member school board voted unanimously not to renew the student-teacher contract with the Christian school.
Though she said she supports religious freedom, Valenzuela – a member of the LGBTQ community – took issue with the school's mission statement which includes providing a biblically integrated education.
"How does that hold space for our members of the LGBTQ community," Valenzuela questioned. "How does that hold space for people who think differently and do not have the same beliefs? That makes me feel like I could not be safe in this school district."
On CBN's Global Lane, ACU spokesperson Linnea Lyding expressed shock over the district's decision.
"Arizona Christian University students have been working with Washington school district for over 10 years and all of the feedback I've gotten has been positive," Lyding explained. "In fact, they've asked for more of our students to come."
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The Alliance Defending Freedom is representing the university in a lawsuit against the school district.
"The government cannot treat people of faith worse than everyone else," said ADF Attorney Ryan Tucker. "These students should not lose opportunities and be punished merely because of their religious beliefs. That's a blatant example of religious discrimination."
Members of the community voiced outrage over the district's move during a recent school board meeting.
"Out of the dozens of practicum students I have had throughout my WEST teaching career, 16 of them have been from ACU," said one local teacher. "All 16 have had glowing reviews in regard to their instruction, strategies and connections made with all students. Never at any time did our students feel unsafe or attacked – ever."
"This is the message that you are and your followers sending to all of our Christian community," said Amy McFarlane. "You do not belong here."
Local resident Aaron Saracola commented, "You are setting a precedent to the state of Arizona that discrimination towards Christians is allowed."
Others argued that the board's decision could cost the district millions of dollars.
"I'm still digesting a little bit the fact of a multi-million dollar lawsuit that the board is costing us taxpayers," said Jeff Cordes. "I mean we talk about hurting the children – that hurts."
Meanwhile, Tucker revealed that two board members have doubled down on their position, but the ADF is prepared to take the case through the appeals system to protect the university's freedoms of speech and religion.
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