This week 17 year old Austin Wallis was forced to either deny he’s gay or find a new high school. In his viral YouTube video, Wallis explains that his Lutheran high school forced him to leave because he was gay. They gave the popular YouTube blogger a choice: he could either go back into the closet by removing all evidence he’s gay from social media or he would be expelled. So he left.
This story, as tragic as it is, raises the question: why are we giving tax breaks to discriminatory Christian schools?
Lutheran High North (LHN) is run by Lutheran Education Association of Houston (LEAH) which is filed as a 501(c)(3). That means the school is able to function as a non-profit with all the tax shelters that come with it while discriminating against its students in whatever way it sees fit on religious grounds.
In the U.S. it’s the status quo for Christian schools to be tax-exempt. They either fall under the umbrella of a host church which is tax-exempt under federal law, or they apply for their own tax exempt status as an independent religious entity.
It seems absurd that a tax-exempt school would able to enforce moral clauses that, in the case of LHN, declare that the school “reserves the right, within its sole discretion, to refuse admission of an applicant and/or to discontinue enrollment of a current student participating in, promoting, supporting or condoning: pornography, sexual immorality, homosexual activity or bisexual activity; or displaying an inability or resistance to support the qualities and characteristics required of a Biblically based and Christ-like lifestyle.”
And it seems illegal. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, and national origin. By requiring its students to identify with a particular brand of Christianity (see the moral clause above) or to otherwise face expulsion, the school would appear to be breaking the “religion” clause of the federal anti-discrimination laws.
There are similarities here to the Ken Ham Ark Encounter story. In case you haven’t been following, Ken Ham from Answers in Genesis is trying to build a Noah’s Ark theme park in Kentucky. Originally, the for-profit venture was depending on $18,000,000 of Kentucky tax payer money as part of that State’s tourism tax incentives. Then it was discovered that the Ark Encounter was taking part in discriminatory hiring practices in that they refused to hire applicants who are gay or non-Christian. As a result they lost their anticipated tourism tax incentives and all was right in the world.
Similar to the Ark Encounter scenario, if a Christian school is to require a student to adhere to a particular brand of Christianity, the school should be stripped of its tax-exempt status. Their thoughts on morality are their business, but when they receive tax breaks while forcing those religious views on others, it becomes our business. It should be obvious that no tax paying citizen should be made to subsidize discrimination and homophobia by bearing the burden of tax-exemptions awarded to these religious, anti-LGBT institutions.