David Cortman

As a federal court recently declared, “Tolerance is a two-way street.”

And this is a lesson the Atlanta-based Southern Education Fund needs to learn after its recent call for private, Christian schools in Georgia to be kicked-out of participating in the state’s tax credit scholarship program.

In late January, SEF released a briefing paper accusing these schools of maintaining “draconian anti-gay policies and practices.” They also claimed that “Georgia’s tax dollars” are being used to fund schools that “demonize students in the name of religion.”

For starters, SEF blatantly misstates the source of funding. The funding does not come from any state funds or from anyone’s tax dollars. It comes from the private donations of individuals and corporations.

As the Supreme Court found in its 2011 ACSTO v. Winn decision: “Like contributions that lead to charitable tax deductions, contributions yielding [scholarship program] tax credits are not owed to the State and, in fact, pass directly from taxpayers to private organizations.” The high court explained that a “contrary position assumes that income should be treated as if it were government property even if it has not come into the tax collector’s hands.”

So, with that fallacy put to rest, what are these “draconian anti-gay policies” that SEF believes should disqualify these schools from being eligible for scholarships?

According to SEF, one example is a policy that prohibits “violation of biblically-based sexual morality on campus or off campus; such as described in the following verses (not limited to): Romans 1:26, 27; I Corinthians 6:18.”

SEF has apparently discovered that Christian schools actually expect their staff and students to adhere to biblical teachings on sexual morality, including those that prohibit adultery, pre-marital sex, and yes, homosexual conduct.

Yet they have made this discovery only to announce their intolerance of the school’s faithfulness to the Bible. From all impressions, it seems SEF is unable to tolerate religious schools that hold a different worldview than its own.

Therefore, SEF calls for the complete exclusion of religious schools from the scholarship program unless those schools throw out the Bible, water down their faith, and agree to embrace SEF’s homosexual agenda.

In other words, tolerance for thee, but not for me.

Sadly, SEF is just one among a growing cadre of anti-religious organizations preaching a message of one-way tolerance. Under their view, Christians are the ones who must do all of the tolerating. We must tolerate their mockery of the Bible and Christianity, and Christian schools must tolerate faculty and students who—knowing the religious beliefs of the school beforehand—nonetheless demand to be allowed to engage in unbiblical conduct.

What SEF and groups like it really want is for any opposing views or ideologies to be eradicated from our nation’s education system. And that is why these groups oppose school choice: because school choice provides true diversity, where schools, teachers, and students of different beliefs—both secular and religious—work together to provide a well-rounded education for every child.

We kid ourselves if we think these calls for one-way tolerance will end with Christian schools. Soon it will be churches that are told they must tolerate same-sex “marriage” ceremonies and homosexual behavior among their staff. Those who stand firm in their faith will find their tax-exempt status revoked because, under the erroneous view of groups that wish to purge faith from the public square, giving a church tax-exemption is the same as giving it money directly from the state’s pocketbook. Because, after all, all our money belongs to the state.

Perhaps it is time for us to call this type of intolerance what it really is: an effort to mandate that all children be educated according to a secular, humanistic ideology that denies God by simply making sure He is left out of the picture entirely.

Georgians should not be taken in by the ploy. Instead, they should embrace the true tolerance that forms the foundation of the First Amendment. And school choice embraces true tolerance.


David Cortman

David Cortman serves as senior legal counsel with the Alliance Defense Fund at its Atlanta Regional Service Center in Georgia, where he heads litigation efforts to defend and reclaim the First Amendment rights of public school students across the nation. Cortman joined ADF in 2005, and is admitted to the bar in Georgia, Florida, and the District of Columbia. He has practiced law since 1996 and graduated magna cum laude from the Regent University School of Law, where he earned his J.D.