FFRF sends letter to Scranton School District

Getty Images/Christine Glade
Getty Images/Christine Glade

The Freedom From Religion Foundation notified the Scranton School District that the district’s lease agreement with the Diocese of Scranton is illegal.

In March of 2014, I offered my thoughts on a lease agreement the Scranton School District — a public school district in Pennsylvania — entered into with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton.

I noted that the lease was problematic because it would result in taxpayer monies being funneled into the diocese and because a provision in the lease states that the district refrain from “any activity that violates any teachings or policies which in any way is contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith and the Diocese of Scranton.” Taxpayer monies should not fund religion and public school districts should not enter into agreements with religious organizations [allowing religious organizations to have control over what occurs at public school districts].

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, following a complaint I sent to them, echoed my grievances and sent a letter to the district. The letter explains that the lease provision — stipulating the district cannot engage in activity contrary to Roman Catholic teaching — “is illegal, and the District must not abide by it or sign future contracts with similar provisions.”

The letter also cites federal court precedent concerning a case in which a school district entered into a lease with a similar provision as the lease between the Diocese of Scranton and the Scranton School District which notes “the government may not share with or delegate to a religious institution the power to veto aspects of a public school curriculum” and “the government must avoid not only the actual interference but also the potential for and appearance of interference with religion.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation’s letter ends noting, “A public school district should not enter into any contracts which condition its activity on the approval of a religious organization. It demonstrates unconstitutional endorsement of the views of the organization, here the Catholic Church.”

Read the letter below and, as always, feel free to comment.

FFRF letter to Scranton School District

Letter to Editor published, comments follow

techcrunch.com
techcrunch.com

The Times-Tribune published my letter to the editor concerning the alarming lease agreement the Scranton School District signed with The Diocese of Scranton

I submitted a letter to the editor — following up on a March 12 piece I authored on this website — in response to an article from The Times-Tribune objecting to the $3000/month lease agreement the Scranton School District signed with The Diocese of Scranton.

The lease is problematic not only because taxpayer monies will support the Diocese of Scranton, but also because of a stipulation barring the district from — at least in the building mentioned in the lease — engaging in activity “that violates any teachings or policies which in any way is contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith and the Diocese of Scranton.”

My letter to the editor follows:

Abandon lease

Editor: I oppose the recent lease agreement the Scranton School District signed with the Diocese of Scranton.

The lease agreement is problematic because through it, taxpayer money and funds belonging to the Scranton School District will be transferred to the Diocese of Scranton; taxpayers, against their will, have their consciences violated in supporting a religious body – violating Section 3 of the state constitution, which states, “no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship or to maintain ministry against his consent; no human authority can in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

The recent lease agreement is additionally problematic because, through its clause not allowing the school district to engage in activity “that violates any teachings or policies which in any way is contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith and the Diocese of Scranton,” the diocese has veto power over classroom content, extracurricular activities, school assemblies, conduct of students, and district policies.

The school district should end its lease agreement with the diocese and, in the future, refrain from entering into agreements financially supporting religious bodies or giving authoritative power to religious entities. Parents and students within the Scranton area are of diverse religious faiths and religious backgrounds. The separation of church and state should be preserved.

Individuals may freely support the Diocese of Scranton, but should not be compelled to do so through taxpayer funds. Individuals may live in accordance with guidelines set by the diocese, but should not be compelled to do so through authoritative power over a school district.

 

Comments in response to my letter to the editor are thankfully generally supportive:

  • How about the Scranton School District paying the NON PROFIT catholic church rent…. Only in Scranton!!! Armpit of America!!!
  • Excellent letter Mr. Vacula. It is great that the school board signed away the students right to an education that includes scientific data to support it. Instead of hearing that, studies will need to tow the line of what was allegedly written in a book 2000 years ago, and was interpreted numerous times over the years.
  • The real question is how much will the district be paying for renovations of a building that is not owned by the taxpayers?
  • I do believe the clause is illegal.. Tenants have more rights than Landlords, I can not dictate my tenants religious beliefs, nor lack of them, nor can I bar my tenants from associating with anybody….
  • The real challenge here is that the school board said they did not need the building; they are paying the church rent AND Maintenance (probably costs far more than rent.

 

Feel free to comment on my letter to the editor and, as always, feel free to comment below. Engage in some activism of your own by contacting Scranton School District officials — making telephone calls or sending e-mails — using the information I have provided.

 

Scranton School District: Stop funding religion

Getty Images/Patrick Herrera
Getty Images/Patrick Herrera

The Scranton School District recently entered into a lease agreement with the Scranton Diocese stipulating that school activity not violate Church teaching.

Sarah Hofius Hall, writing for the Scranton-based The Times-Tribunereports that on Monday — March 10, 2014 — members of the Scranton School District school board unanimously voted to approve a $3000/month lease agreement allowing the district to use property owned by the Diocese of Scranton to potentially house elementary school students. Further, a portion of the lease stipulates the school district must refrain from “any activity that violates any teachings or policies which in any way is contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith and the Diocese of Scranton.”

Taxpayers from the Scranton area — through this lease agreement — are compelled to fund the Diocese of Scranton because their tax monies go to the Scranton school district. Worse yet, the lease agreement gives the Diocese of Scranton veto power not only over classroom content, but also over extra-curricular activities taking place at the school district, content presented at school assemblies, conduct of students, and all school policies; anything deemed “contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith and the Diocese of Scranton” by Diocese of Scranton officials may not be permitted within the building leased by the Scranton School District and owned by the Diocese of Scranton.

The Scranton School District should not be entering into financial agreements with the Diocese of Scranton. In doing so, the consciences of taxpayers — Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of no faith, and people of diverse religious backgrounds — are violated and children are subject to the whims of the Diocese of Scranton.

Section three of Pennsylvania’s state constitution states, “All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship or to maintain any ministry against his consent; no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.” This should be respected; Scranton area taxpayers should not be supporting the Diocese of Scranton through the lease agreement unanimously approved by the Scranton School District’s school board.

Getty Images/Christine Glade
Getty Images/Christine Glade

Scranton’s school district must reconsider their lease agreement with the Diocese of Scranton and terminate their agreement immediately. The separation of church and state should be preserved; no taxpayer should be compelled to fund a religious body and no public school district should allow a religious body to have control over a public school’s district’s decisions.

Join me in contacting administration and/or Board of Education members within the Scranton School District:

BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Kathleen McGuigan – President ~ kathleen.mcguigan@scrsd.org

Mark McAndrew – Vice President ~ mark.mcandrew@scrsd.org

Robert Casey ~ robert.casey@scrsd.org

Kyle Donahue ~ kyle.donahue@scrsd.org

Cy Douaihy ~ cy.douaihy@scrsd.org

Armand Martinelli ~ armand.martinelli@scrsd.org

Carol Oleski ~ carol.oleski@scrsd.org

Dr. Lyn Ruane ~ lyn.ruane@scrsd.org

Robert Sheridan ~ bob.sheridan@scrsd.org
ADMINISTRATION

Superintendent of Schools – William F. King – 570-348-3465 – bill.king@scrsd.org

Supervisor of Elementary Education – Jessica Leitzel – 570-348-3429 – jessica.leitzel@scrsd.org

Curriculum Director – Chris Mazzino – 570-348-3432 – chris.mazzino@scrsd.org

Sound off on Scranton School District’s Facebook page.

Comment on the newspaper article concerning this issue.

 

Consider authoring the following e-mail and/or using this message as a template for phone conversations/voicemail messages.

I oppose the recent lease agreement the Scranton School District signed with The Diocese of Scranton. The lease agreement is problematic because — through it — taxpayer monies and funds belonging to the Scranton School District will be transferred to the Diocese of Scranton; taxpayers, against their will, have their consciences violated in supporting a religious body – violating section three of the Pennsylvania State Constitution which states “no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship or to maintain ministry against his consent; no human authority can in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience, and no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious establishments or modes of worship.”

The recent lease agreement is additionally problematic because, through its clause not allowing the school district to engage in activity “that violates any teachings or policies which in any way is contrary to the teachings of the Roman Catholic faith and the Diocese of Scranton” the Diocese of Scranton has veto power over classroom content, extracurricular activities, school assemblies, conduct of students, and district policies.

The Scranton School District should immediately end its lease agreement with the Diocese of Scranton and, in the future, refrain from entering into agreements financially supporting religious bodies and/or giving authoritative power to religious entities. Parents and students within the Scranton area are of diverse religious faiths and no religious backgrounds. The separation of church and state should be preserved. Individuals may freely support the Diocese of Scranton, but should not be compelled to do so through taxpayer funds. Individuals may live in accordance with guidelines set by the Diocese of Scranton, but should not be compelled to do so through authoritative power over a school district.