As religious schools in Cleveland watch enrollments rise this fall due to the first educational-voucher program to include such institutions, some are hoping to impart spiritual disciplines to non-Christian children and their parents.
David Mossman, principal of Westside Baptist Christian Elementary School, where 27 students attend through the state-financed tuition supplements, says evangelism to both students and parents is a key part of their mission. "We ask parents the reason they are sending their children here, and often we have times to witness to them," he says.
One such parent is Dennis Widner, whose daughters Carinna and Stacey attend Westside Baptist, thanks to vouchers. While investigating schools, he talked with administrators about what they believe and teach. He became a Christian and now attends the Baptist church that houses the school.
WORST FEARS FOUNDED? Such a scenario is a nightmare that church-state separatists have long been warning about. Along with teacher's unions and public-school advocates, they filed suit to halt the $5.25 million program on the grounds that vouchers have potential use as evangelistic tools.
"These are allegations we've always raised, that part of the character of these schools is the effort of converting and proselytizing children," says Steve K. Green, legal director for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. "But we haven't hung our hat on it because, to be honest, that's what a lot of parents want."
The suit was struck down July 31 by the Franklin County Common Pleas Court, but it is pending before the Ohio Court of Appeals.
The groups opposing the plan, including Americans United, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the National Education Association's Center ...1
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