KJZZ is a service of Rio Salado College,
and Maricopa Community Colleges

Copyright © 2024 KJZZ/Rio Salado College/MCCCD
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Judge Dismisses Case Against Arizona Charter Schools Accused Of Teaching Religion

Heritage Academy logo
(Photo via Heritage Academy - Twitter)
Heritage Academy has campuses in Mesa, Laveen and Queen Creek.

A district court judge dismissed a lawsuit against a Mesa-based charter school, but the plaintiff’s attorney said the legal battle isn’t over yet. 

The lawsuit alleges Heritage Academy used religious lessons in its classes and in doing so, violated the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiff is a parent who wanted to remain anonymous to protect his kids from harassment at school.

The court denied the request to use a pseudonym and asked the plaintiff to file a complaint using initials.

“Our view and our client’s view is that really wasn’t much of a solution at all," said Eric Rothschild, attorney for the Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "In a population the size of a student body, there aren’t that many people with identical initials." The legal team appealed the district court’s decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The original case ground to a halt without a new filing, and on Oct. 31, the judge dismissed the case.

“We’re grateful this trial court brought this case to a conclusion,” said Robert Grasso, one of the attorneys representing Heritage Academy.

The plaintiff’s legal team believe a successful appeal will revive the lawsuit.

“We think the most appropriate thing is for this case to pick up where it left off,” Rothschild said.

Another option would be to file a new legal complaint in court. Until the appeals court rules, the legal future of the case is uncertain

Rothschild said the outcome of the appeal is important not only for their client, but for “other people in a similar system who have important constitutional claims but may be wary about trying to vindicate them if they have to subject themselves to this kind of scrutiny and retaliation.”

Lawsuit rooted in complaints

The complaint alleges religious instruction is “rampant” in Heritage Academy’s American government classes.

The lawsuit cites specific texts used in the class that link religion to governance and teach concepts such as “without religion, the government of a free people cannot be maintained.”

The complaint said this violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and that constitutionally, it’s a parent’s responsibility to educate their child about religion.

The school denied the allegations.

“Heritage Academy’s position is that it is a charter school that teaches history, and it teaches the traditional subjects, and it does so consistent with the U.S. Constitution,” Grasso said.

The Arizona Republic reported there were three complaints to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools preceding the legal case.

The nonprofit leading the lawsuit, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, advocates for separating government from religion.

Mariana Dale rustles up stories as a senior field correspondent based out of KJZZ’s East Valley Bureau in Tempe. She’s followed a microphone onto cattle ranches, to the Dominican Republic and many places in between. Dale believes in a story’s strength to introduce us to diverse perspectives, inspire curiosity and hold public leaders accountable for their actions. She started at KJZZ on the digital team in 2016 and still spends a lot of time thinking about how to engage with our community online. Dale has learned from stints at Arizona Public Media, The Arizona Daily Star, The Arizona Republic and as an intern at NPR’s Morning Edition in Culver City. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Dale is grateful for the mentoring of the New York Times Student Journalism Institute, the Chips Quinn Scholars program and AIR’s New Voices Scholars. A desert native, she loves spending time outside hiking, tending to her cactus and reading.