SAVAGE, Md. — Pictures, which appear online, depict smiling faces at the Bethel Christian Academy schools in Savage even though the state now frowns on giving scholarships for low-income students to attend schools, which condemn anything other than marriage between a man and a woman.
Last year, it ruled the school ineligible to participate in its "Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today” program or BOOST, as it’s called, and asked it to pay back more than $100,000 in past vouchers.
"The BOOST advisory board in this program is just basically kicking them out, because they disagree with their religious beliefs,” said Attorney David Cortman. “And so the law is pretty clear---what it says is, 'Schools must agree to let everyone into their program.' Well, Bethel has already told them over and over again that they allow everyone in."
Attorneys with a group called the Alliance Defending Freedom picked up the school's cause, and they're challenging the state's decision since there is no evidence of any student being turned away because of its religious beliefs.
"It's a voluntary choice,” said Cortman. “If parents say, 'Yes, that's the school I want to go to', those students, those low-income students are now being punished, because they have less of a choice."
Less choice, they argue, for students ranging in age from kindergarteners to eighth graders who are far too young to marry anyway.
The state has asked some religious schools to strip language about their beliefs from their handbooks so they can continue to participate in the voucher program, but the school argues that it, too, has rights and it shouldn't have to hide tenets of its faith.
"Bethel is clearly a religious school. They're proud of that. They don't hide it,” said Cortman. “They're doing well especially with the low-income students. In fact, they're such a diverse school, they have over 40 countries represented. 85 percent of the student population are diverse. They're racial and ethnic minorities. So how could you say they're not allowing everyone in? They're one of the most diverse schools out there."
Since the state board's ruling last year, Bethel Christian Academy has lost 80 students or about 20 percent of its student body, but at this point, it is not seeking damages over the impact on its enrollment numbers.
It's trying to block the six-figure payout for children who already used vouchers to attend the school over the last two years.