THE NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Discrimination unfair charge against those who voted against charter school bill

Some critics and a Journal Gazette editorial bemoan the death of an amendment to a charter school bill that would have prohibited voucher schools from “discriminating” on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression.

The targets of their criticism are the 63 members of the Indiana House, who last week voted against the proposed amendment to House Bill 1641. The Saturday Journal Gazette editorial was framed under the statement: “a majority of Indiana House members support taxpayer-funded discrimination at those schools.”

It’s a troubling statement, naming local and area Republican Reps. David Abbott, Martin Carbaugh, Dave Heine, Christopher Judy, Matthew Lehman, Dan Leonard, Bob Morris, Curt Nisly and Ben Smaltz and implying they advocate discrimination.

In a mostly party-line vote, the amendment proposal was voted down, 63-32. Rep. Sean Eberhart of Shelbyville was the only Republican to vote in favor of the amendment. The only House member from northeast Indiana to support the measure was Democrat Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta of Fort Wayne.

While we understand there is a heated debate over whether schools that receive money from taxpayer-funded vouchers can set restrictions on who can and who can’t attend their schools, as well as who can or can’t be employed by their schools, the charge of discrimination is very much the same as whether bakers must, by law, bake wedding cakes for gay weddings. Is it really discrimination? Or is it simply adherence to religious principles, inherent in the policies of the schools and the owners of many businesses?

Rep. Dan Forestal, D-Indianapolis, proposed the amendment as a result of Indianapolis Roncalli High School’s suspension of a guidance counselor. A Roncalli graduate, Forestal said he is ashamed of his former school for letting Shelly Fitzgerald go from her job after finding out she married her partner, Victoria, four years ago.

Forestal’s proposed amendment would have meant a school found in violation of the discrimination prohibition would have been ineligible for voucher funds for the next year.

Rep. Tim Wesco, R-Osceola, argued against the bill, according to a report by the, citing the contract Fitzgerald signed when beginning employment at Roncalli.

“This is a question that I think we all need to ask ourselves,” Wesco said. “Is it discriminatory for Christian congregations to live out their sincerely held moral beliefs that they have held for thousands of years?”

The stated position of the school and Archdiocese is that their employees are required to support the teachings of the Catholic Church that are defined in their contracts, which includes marriage “between a man and a woman.”

The Archdiocese says vouchers have been useful for expanding access and parental choice to families who otherwise may not have been able to afford it.

Most private schools in Indiana, like Roncalli, are religious. Critics say this is a direct violation of both the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and Section 6 of Indiana’s Constitution, which specifically forbids Indiana from using state funding to support religious institutions.

While there may be valid arguments against vouchers for private schools, discrimination shouldn’t be one of them. Forestal’s amendment, rather, seemed to be another attack from those determined to make religious schools and other institutions in Indiana adhere to sexual philosophies that go against their beliefs.