HENDERSON, Nev. — Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s visit to a private Christian academy and church in Las Vegas on Wednesday drew criticism from a liberal advocacy group that said the school discriminates against the disabled and people of other faiths.
Annette Magnus-Marquart, an official with the group Battle Born Progress, pointed to a section of a handbook for the International Christian Academy that says admission can be denied “to any individual whose family or personal lifestyle is not consistent with the philosophy or purpose of the school.”
Magnus-Marquart said: “They’re making discriminatory policies. That’s a huge problem.
“If it doesn’t fit what they deem to be their academic standard, their philosophy or their religion, then they can discriminate. We should not be tolerating that.”
The leader of the academy and International Church of Las Vegas responded that his school, with just 300 students in pre-kindergarten to 9th grade, needs to restrict admission to children who administrators think will benefit the most.
“We’re just trying to be honest,” Pastor Paul Marc Goulet said.
He said his school can serve students in wheelchairs. But applicants with emotional or behavioral problems, or learning disabilities such as impaired vision or hearing, may be referred to other schools.
“We’re saying that we’re not able to help every student,” Goulet told The Associated Press. “We don’t have a million resources, and we’re not equipped to handle some of the issues that may be out there.”
Goulet denied that admission is restricted on the basis of physical ability, background, race, gender, religion or sexual preference.
The academy’s handbook says it respects the religious background of every student but reserves the right to teach on the basis of the school’s biblical statement of faith. It also says the school can turn away employee applicants on the basis of “religious or spiritual convictions.”
Trump praised the school during a visit to a first-grade class, where he joined a Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag.
“We need more schools like this all over the country,” the candidate said. “If we had, we wouldn’t be having the problems we have right now. You can see it in the students’ faces: they are learning and they are happy.”
The Republican nominee also joined Goulet in prayer at the church
During his campaign swing through southern Nevada, Trump also visited with Hispanic business leaders at a Mexican restaurant and spoke to a large crowd at a concert venue in suburban Henderson before he headed to northern Nevada and an afternoon rally at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center.
Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire contributed to this report.