Pennsylvania Backs Down After Trying to Regulate Christian School’s Curriculum

July 5, 2024
Free Gospel Bible Institute | FLI Insider

Camille Varone – 4 minutes

Religious education has always been important to families of faith. Parents increasingly want options that align with their values and provide quality education after seeing what kids were learning during lockdowns in 2020.

For many families, this has meant a change to private, often faith-based schools. But these schools are increasingly coming under attack by the government.

Unfortunately, many states think they know what’s best for all children. If they can’t keep your kids in public school, state officials may try to control the curriculum that your kids learn in other ways.

Pennsylvania tried, and failed, to do just that to a small Christian school this year.

Free Gospel Bible Institute (FGBI) is a private, Christian school for students after high school. The Bible Institute teaches students how to grow in their faith and prepares them for a life of ministry. Some graduates continue to seminary, and others simply are better equipped to live out their faith day by day.

After declining to regulate the Bible Institute for 65 years, Pennsylvania suddenly changed its mind. Because FGBI teaches about ministry, and ministry is a “vocation,” the state claimed it had the same authority to regulate FGBI’s curriculum and hiring as it does for trade schools that train technicians, plumbers, and cosmetologists.

The state issued an ultimatum: Let the state review and approve the curriculum about the Bible, or close the schoolhouse doors. As if Pennsylvania’s bureaucrats know best whether a Bible school should offer classes about Paul’s letter to the Romans or Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

As far-fetched as Pennsylvania’s claim was, the situation may not surprise parents and private school administrators. And, before writing this example off as something for college-aged youth, remember that states are often more proactive in regulating the curriculum at schools that serve younger ages.

It’s far too easy for states to railroad religious schools that lack the information needed to push back. Too often, families and their schools do not know how to effectively fight back against the government. That must change.

The First Amendment protects religious schools like FBGI. The Constitution provides these schools autonomy, just like houses of worship, to decide matters of faith and doctrine without the government’s interference. Time and again, the Supreme Court has spelled out that state interference violates free exercise.

States cannot tell religious schools who to hire or what to teach any more than they can dictate who your pastor is or what he can say from the pulpit.

States like Pennsylvania know these rules, but bureaucrats are emboldened to test the limits. The First Amendment’s protections can unfortunately mean little unless informed people fight back.

That was the case for FGBI. First Liberty reminded Pennsylvania’s Department of Education about the First Amendment’s church autonomy doctrine. We explained that requiring the Bible Institute to submit to the state’s private school licensing regime would fly in the face of the Constitution.

And the State backed down, without any legal fight or protracted battle. This time, all it took was a polite, well-informed letter to protect this school’s ability to quietly return to its faithful mission to follow Christ and train its students for a life of godliness.

Many of our families and private school administrators are enjoying a well-earned summer break. But your governments do not take a break, and you don’t want to be caught asleep at the wheel. A good defense is sometimes the best offense.

By being informed of your rights, you can stand in the gap. When it comes to your children and your faith, you provide the first line of defense.

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