Fla. Christian Preschool Closes Over Potential Gov't Intrusion, Transgender Bathroom Threat
So it begins. A Christian preschool in Florida which receives much of its funding from the state government has announced it will close its doors in May, due to concerns that government regulations could violate the school's independence and religious freedom. The government could even require bathroom accommodations for transgender preschoolers.
"There has always been some concern among a lot of people with taking any kind of government dollars as to whether or not the people could have a say in what you teach, your curriculum, whether or not it is a separation of church and state issue," Barbara Deem, director of Pensacola's Gateway Christian School, told The Christian Post. The school, which is an outreach ministry of the Gateway Church of Christ in Pensacola, will shut down after serving the local community for over 40 years.
Deem explained that the church elders reportedly made the decision that the school's involvement in the state-funded Voluntary pre-kindergarten (VPK) subsidy program could become a "liability" to the church. In the program, 4-year-olds who qualify can receive state funding to offset the costs of pre-kindergarten classes.
The preschool has participated in the VPK program since its inception in 2005. Deem said the program pays for about 60 percent of the preschool's enrollment, at the cost of roughly $2,300 per 4-year-old child per year. Parents pay for the other 40 percent of children, ages 1 to 3.
While the preschool is closing because of state-church concerns, Deem explained that it already had a built-in protection from intrusive regulations. "We have time throughout the day that the state is not paying for, in order to alleviate any possibility of being challenged on teaching Christian values on the government dollar," she said.
Nevertheless, the elders became increasingly concerned about the possibility that the government would one day force the preschool to alter its curriculum or to make changes that conflict with Christian teachings. According to Deem, elders have been "investigating other churches in other states that have been threatened with political changes."
Interestingly, the church's elders were concerned about the "separation of church and state." Deem explained that they asked, "can your status as an independent entity be challenged because you may not want to go with what is politically correct?"
"They cite things such as installing transgender bathrooms or teaching values that are opposed to what the church actually stands for and the values that each independent church holds high," Deem said.
Nevertheless, she added, "We have not had any threats. We have not had anyone come and challenge these issues. I have had this position for nine years and I have never had anyone come and question us about our teachings. If anything it is quite the opposite. They are happy that their children are getting some Christian education at an early age."