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Thursday, March 21, 2013
Atheists Push to Exclude Church Preschools from Early Learning
By Hawaii Family Forum @ 7:10 PM :: 6221 Views :: Education K-12, First Amendment


Faith or Funding?

From Hawaii Family Forum March 21, 2013

A wonderful opportunity to build private-public partnerships is quickly becoming a veiled blow to religious freedom in Hawaii.  Very shortly, it seems, some of our preschools and kindergartens may have to choose between funding and the practice of faith.

To be sure, a lot of effort has been put into this issue.  There are two issues to address in this article.  The first is the plan that Governor Abercrombie has presented to build a public-private partnership to make early education more available in our communities.  The second, is the implementation of this plan.  And what we are learning, is that the devil is in the details, and here is where the concern is building.


Many families are struggling to ensure that their keiki have the education needed to enter Kindergarten.  Higher educational standards have created a deep chasm between school readiness and economic challenges.  Families who are struggling are not able to put their keiki into preschools or daycare that teaches the necessary reading and writing skills.  What actually happens is that many children are entering kindergarten without these skills and end up behind their peers.

At a recent hearing, one young single mother said she had to choose between rent and early childhood education.  She said she choose education and had to move back home to live with her parents.  The fact remains that there are children being left behind and the Governor is right to step in and  help bridge that gap.


Opposition to the effort has come from very interesting groups.  Both the HSTA and ACLU have strong concerns about the “separation of church and state” in the use of government funding for religious preschools.  To alleviate their concerns, the Governor’s Executive Office on Early Learning has released “talking points” on how this public/private partnership could work without breaching that so-called separation.  Based on the “successful Connecticut Model”, these talking points make clear that certain things cannot be allowed if these private “religious” schools accept funding.  

(read it on the Governor's Website here

  • The program must be open to all children, and cannot exclude a child based on the family’s religious creed or lack thereof;
  • The program cannot be used to proselytize or attempt to persuade or convert children or their families to religion or a particular religious persuasion;
  • The program may not contain religious observances, such as prayer, grace, confession, church attendance, religious instruction, etc.;
  • The program must accommodate the practice of a child or staff member’s personal religious beliefs where the practice is required during program hours; e.g. Islamic designated time for prayers; so, staff that are Christians and believe they need to share the gospel can do so, but the organization cannot?
  • The program may not require children or their families to participate in faith-based or church sponsored activities or services which are not part of the school readiness program;
  • Programs may not discriminate in hiring based on religious affiliation or lack of religious affiliation; and
  • Unless it is not practicable, classes should be conducted in rooms that are free of religious symbols and other religious items.


To be fair, the actual criteria is still being determined, but the points above are presented by the Governor’s Office, not us.  Based on the above criteria, it is very clear that there will be faith-based schools that cannot participate because of their faith practices.

Will there be a divide created between schools which are low to moderately Christian compared to those who may be considered too Christian?  Will some of the faith-based programs have to choose between practicing their faith and receiving funding?  Will faith-based preschools lose students to secular schools that offer tuition incentives?  These are questions that have not been adequately answered although there is a strong effort by the Governor to try and find a way to make the partnership work without restricting faith-based groups from practicing their religious beliefs. 


(SB 1093, SB 1095 and SB 1084) are currently moving through the legislature.  An attitude of let’s pass it and fix it later has surfaced (does this argument sound familiar?) and we strongly disagree.  We should all support quality and affordable education for our keiki, but we don’t believe you should do it by promoting one type of private education over another because when that happens, non-religious schools will gain students in the process and some of the smaller faith-based schools may have to close their doors (and yes, those doors have big crosses on them.)




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