Christian Group Sues Missouri Over Law Regulating Abuse-Heavy Religious Schools October 21, 2021

Christian Group Sues Missouri Over Law Regulating Abuse-Heavy Religious Schools

Back in July, Missouri’s Republican governor, Mike Parson, signed a sensible piece of legislation — all the more surprising because it was passed by a Republican-majority legislature.

The bill required faith-based boarding schools to register with the state, conduct federal background checks on staffers and volunteers, and comply with fire/health/safety codes. Failure to meet those requirements could result in the school shutting down.

If that seems like the bare minimum those schools could do… you’d be right. But those moves were only necessary because faith-based schools had been exempt from any kind of regulations or oversight in the state since 1982. (A 2003 effort to change that failed after conservative Christians claimed the oversight violated their religious freedom.)

So what happened this year that finally moved Republicans to push this bill?

Mainly, we learned the truth about what occurred at the “Circle of Hope Girls’ Ranch and Boarding School.” Its founders, Boyd Householder and his wife Stephanie, were arrested in March on 102 criminal charges of abuse after their daughter led the charge against them on TikTok, victims shared their stories publicly, and the state’s attorney general decided to take action.

The bill that was signed into law didn’t interfere with religious freedom; it simply forced schools to take basic precautions in the name of student safety. There’s no reason any sane person should oppose this.

Which is why, naturally, a conservative Christian group has now sued a state official (Jennifer Tidball, the Acting Director of the Missouri Department of Social Services) to overturn the law.

According to the Kansas City Star, CNS International Ministries (known as Heartland) just sued the state, claiming the new law is “unconstitutional.” And wouldn’t you know it: These are the same people who blocked the 2003 bill.

“This is not the first time that Heartland has been forced to seek refuge in federal court from an unconstitutional assault by Missouri officials,” the lawsuit says. “And in some instances they (the new law and regulations) require Heartland to violate settled federal statutory requirements guaranteeing privacy to individuals in drug and alcohol recovery programs.”

The suit alleges the new law violates numerous constitutional rights, including restricting Heartland from forming an “association of those who share a common commitment to education, addiction recovery and religious faith.” And it says the statute violates the federal constitutional rights of students, their families and faculty and staff.

Just to state the obvious, these people are complaining about filling out basic paperwork about who lives and works in their facilities, conducting background checks, and making sure their buildings are safe. If they can’t do those simple things, they shouldn’t be operating these schools.

We cannot let potential Christian cruelty override student safety. This isn’t about getting in the way of confidentiality; it’s making sure residents at these places are protected, because we know for a fact they often are not.

Before the law passed, Missouri was one of only two states (along with South Carolina) where faith-based schools were exempt from licensing requirements, allowing them to ignore any regulations. The legislation was necessary. But if Heartland gets its way, their ability to scream “Jesus” at the top of their lungs would grant them immunity against basic oversight.

(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Scott for the link. Large portions of this article were published earlier)

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