Catholic schools in Florida that have LGBTQ-negative policies have received millions of dollars in state funding, according to a new investigation.
An investigation by The Orlando Sentinel has found that 156 Christian and Catholic schools with anti-LGBTQ policies educated 20,800 students under the state’s school voucher program last year. This state voucher program paid $129 million dollars in tuition fees to the schools.
The state scholarship program (also known as school vouchers) allows students and parents the choice of enrolling in a private school with the help of state financial assistance rather than a local public school. Many lawmakers, educators, and citizens have questioned if it is right, or even legal, to spend state money on schools with anti-LGBTQ policies.
Although the majority of schools profiled in this investigation are Protestant or non-denominational, the Sentinel did mention some Catholic schools in its findings, showing diametrically opposed policies among them. Donahue Academy in Collier County, Florida, part of the Diocese of Venice, outlines its anti-LGBT policy in the following passage from its student handbook:
“Because the Catholic Church teaches that same-sex attraction is inherently disordered and that sexual activity is only appropriate for the purposes of love and life within a marriage considered valid by the Church, those students experiencing this disordered inclination may not advocate for it or express it in the context of our Catholic school classes, activities, or events.”
The handbook also mandates that the school will only interact with students “according to their biological sex as based upon physical differences at birth.” The school received over $690,000 in tuition from the state’s voucher program last year.
On the other hand, the investigation found schools like Father Lopez Catholic High School in Daytona Beach, Florida, which promises no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The school is part of the Diocese of Orlando, which says all 43 of its schools follow the same policy. Father Lopez Catholic High School received $1 million in state scholarships last year.
Currently, there are two Democrat-backed bills in the Florida state legislature that would ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation at private schools that receive state scholarships. However, the bills are not expected to pass in the Republican-controlled legislature. The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops’ lobbying arm opposes the bills. With 244 Catholic schools in the state, the schools are a major player in Florida’s educational landscape.
The Sentinel’s investigation evoked strong reactions, according to The Florida Roundup. For instance, corporate sponsors of the state voucher program receive tax write-offs. Despite the benefit, Wells Fargo, Fifth Third Bank, and Wyndham Destinations are all pulling their money out of the program.
State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando is among several lawmakers angered by the investigation’s finding. Smith believes the schools’ policies are in violation of Florida law, stating:
“I believe so because it is every individual’s constitutional right to not be discriminated against. No matter where they are, whether it’s in a school, whether it’s at work, whether it’s in housing or in public accommodations. Obviously, this is a very broad issue. But you cannot expel a student based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and not run afoul of the Constitution.”
Meanwhile, according to The Miami Herald, U.S. Senator Marco Rubio criticized corporate response to the situation, calling their withdrawal a “publicity stunt aimed at earning ‘wokeness’ points with the radical left.”
As the debate in the Florida legislature rages on, it is important to remember the parents and students affected by anti-LGBTQ policies. The Sentinel includes the story of Nicole and Cari Haagenson. Cari’s two oldest daughters had previously attended Master’s Academy, a Christian school in Vero Beach, when she had been married to a man.
After entering into a relationship with Nicole, Cari’s daughters (who were receiving Florida scholarships) were denied readmission into the school. The rejection still stings. Cari remembers telling her girls they could not return to school. Nicole initially thought it was all a misunderstanding:
“‘I’m pretty sure they can’t discriminate against you… I was wrong. They definitely could, and they definitely did.'”
—Melissa Feito, New Ways Ministry, February 9, 2020