Attorney Shane Youtz, who represents the family, said the couple received a letter from Hope Christian school saying their three-year-old son would not be able to enroll because of his parents’ sexual orientation.
An official from Hope Christian – which received $61,455 in public, federal funding for the current budget year – declined to comment.
Youtz said the family hopes the school will change its mind, and that the matter can be resolved without litigation.
The New Mexico Human Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and “public accommodations.” It also bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
The statute allows religious-based organizations to discriminate on that basis, but not if they have a nonprofit status.
Hope is a nonprofit, so Youtz contends the school must admit the student.
Peter Simonson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, said he thinks any future case may turn on a different part of the law: whether a private school is a “public accommodation.”
The definition of “public accommodation” in New Mexico was refined recently when the state Court of Appeals ruled that an Albuquerque photo studio had violated the Human Rights Act by refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony.
The court found that Elane Photography is a “public accommodation,” or an establishment that provides services to the public and therefore cannot discriminate under the law. Simonson said it is unclear whether a private school would be considered a public accommodation.
Simonson also said he does not believe Hope should receive public money, contending that the funding violates the establishment clause in the Bill of Rights. That clause is the basis for the separation of church and state.
“We don’t think organizations that use religion to discriminate should receive any government money,” he said.
He went on to say that even if religious schools don’t discriminate on the basis of religion, he does not believe public funds should be used to promote religious curriculum.
But under federal guidelines, the school is eligible for public dollars.
The school receives federal funding under Title II, which is earmarked for teacher training. Don Moya, chief financial officer of Albuquerque Public Schools, said APS staff looked into the federal funding as soon as they heard about the alleged discrimination.
Since federal money flows to private schools through local school districts, Moya said he wanted to make sure there were no improprieties in Hope Christian’s funding.
Al Sanchez, director of grant management at APS, said he believes the school has not done anything to disqualify it from receiving the funds. To lose the funds, the school would have to fail to comply with specific conditions of the Title II money, like failing to equitably train teachers.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal