A supposedly non-denominational Pennsylvania boarding school founded by the Hershey family, famous for its chocolate, is quietly seeking a license to discriminate against its underprivileged students even as it faces lawsuits alleging anti-LGBTQ discrimination and a Christian agenda.
The Milton Hershey School, which we covered last year when childcare workers said it was pushing its own brand of anti-LGBTQ kids on poor kids under the guise of “charity,” has also previously been criticized for allegedly forcing a student to watch a video meant to convert him from homosexuality.
The 2,000-student school is now using sealed court filings in an attempt to subvert state-based discrimination laws, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The politically connected institution says it deserves the same discrimination exemptions as neighborhood parochial schools that advance the Catholic faith. The Hershey School, funded by a torrent of stock dividends and created by chocolate titan Milton Hershey as an orphanage, recruits low-income students throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
Religion — such as chapel attendance — is part of the program, but the charity’s mission is to lift low-income children into the middle class.
The Hershey School faces federal lawsuits claiming that school officials forced house parents to attend evangelical church services and expelled depressed students. In 2012, the Hershey School settled with the Justice Department for rejecting admission to a teenager with HIV, agreeing to pay him and the federal government $715,000.
I do think this school deserves the same rights to discriminate as the Catholic schools: absolutely none.
It’s nice that this is being brought to light by good reporting because the case itself is still under seal. Although the petition has already been rejected at one level, this certainly isn’t the end of the discussion, and experts warn any other result could potentially be dangerous.
The Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission rejected the Hershey School’s petition to place itself beyond the jurisdiction of its anti-discrimination oversight, but Commonwealth Court heard, under seal, an appeal brought by the charity and last month sent it back to the commission for more hearings, still under seal.
It would be a “license to discriminate,” Drexel University law professor David S. Cohen warned. “Imagine if ShopRite were not subject to the [public accommodation] laws. It could refuse service to black people, women, those with disabilities.”
Stephen Gold, a retired civil rights attorney in Philadelphia, said it was “shocking” that the case was being heard under seal in a state appeals court. The charity “gets many benefits from its nonprofit status, and it should abide by the same laws as everyone else,” he said.
Gould is right. This school should not be above the law.
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