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Massachusetts Church Now Free to Open Religious School

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May 13, 2022
Fli Insider | Vida Real Victory

by Jorge Gomez • 5 min read

First Liberty and Massachusetts Family Institute are excited to announce a victory on behalf of our client, Vida Real Church. Located in Somerville, just outside Boston, this largely Hispanic immigrant church recently applied to open a private school called Real Life Learning Center (RLLC).

Initially, members of the Somerville Public School Committee voiced opposition to the church’s religious beliefs. But after we intervened, the committee approved the application—which means the church will be able to open the school.

“We are grateful that Somerville officials recognized that the government cannot ban a religious school because they disagree with its religious beliefs,” said Ryan Gardner, counsel for First Liberty Institute. “Because of the school board’s decision, more families will be able to provide the education they desire for their children.”

“We are absolutely thrilled the RLLC will be able to open,” said Andrew Beckwith, president of Massachusetts Family Institute. “It is good to see Somerville school officials finally treating Vida Real fairly and according to the law.”

You’ll recall that we stepped in last month to defend Vida Real. We urged Somerville Superintendent Mary Skipper and the committee to allow RLLC to open, informing them that opposing the school because of its religious beliefs was a violation of the law.

After the school originally submitted its application in September, several committee members set up roadblocks. These included multiple-month delays in considering the application and false claims that the application was incomplete or incorrect.

The school committee’s discrimination was blatant. It even sent the church a list of 35 questions about the school and its proposed curriculum, some of which were hostile to Vida Real’s religious beliefs and questioned whether RLLC could adequately provide instruction because it would teach in accordance with its religious beliefs. Committee members even challenged whether the school should be allowed to teach a faith-based curriculum at all.

It is certainly great news that the committee did the right thing and followed the law, instead of discriminating against the church.

Massachusetts law expressly prohibits the Committee from withholding approval “on account of religious teaching.” Additionally, the First Amendment ensures religious schools are protected as they teach principles central to their faith. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that private, faith-based education is a constitutionally protected right.

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This is the second time we’ve successfully protected Vida Real from harassment and discrimination. Last year, First Liberty immediately came to its aid after a shocking incident in which a city official intruded into the church’s Sunday morning worship service.

The church meets in a building directly across the street from city hall. In February 2021, a “civil servant” from the health department—accompanied by multiple police officers—interrupted Pastor Luis Morales’s sermon.

They entered the sanctuary, and the “registered sanitarian” began taking video and pictures with her phone, causing many of the churchgoers to panic. City officials took this outrageous action, because they suspected the church might be over capacity based on COVID restrictions requiring no more than 40% occupancy. (The following day the limit was set to be increased to 50%).

Within a few hours, First Liberty was on the scene representing Vida Real. We met with the city to explain why this was an unnecessary intrusion into the life of this congregation. The city admitted it had botched the situation and said it would not happen again. Almost as quickly as it began, the matter was settled thanks to our legal team being on the frontlines.

Wins like these are incredibly significant to those involved. They make a big difference in the lives of Americans who simply want to exercise their constitutional rights and live in liberty.

It’s through those small, yet abundant victories that we see some of the most meaningful impact, because collectively, these wins all add up to help protect religious liberty for millions of Americans across our country.

As we celebrate Vida Real’s win, we want to thank you for supporting First Liberty. You’re the driving force that helps deliver these crucial victories.

First Liberty is defending houses of worship nationwide, and we need YOUR continued support. Please donate to today and help us protect churches and faith-based schools from aggressive attacks.

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