Like many educational institutions, St. John’s Lutheran School in Baraboo uses federal tax dollars to pay for certain programs, such as free and reduced-price lunches for disadvantaged students.

The funds for those programs are taken from all U.S. taxpayers, without discrimination. And federal civil rights protections say that any student who legally qualifies for the programs can participate, regardless of race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.

But taxpayers whose children are homosexual or transgender may not be able to take advantage of those programs, at least not at St. John’s. That’s because officials at the private religious school say they have the right to discipline students for making what they refer to as “sinful choices.”

“I didn’t mean any kind of move around, or to manipulate the law or anything like that,” St. John’s Principal Craig Breitkreutz said about a letter he wrote to parents in February.

In the letter, Breitkreutz outlined new rules that required parents to provide a birth certificate and sign a parent handbook agreement prior to enrollment.

The birth certificate allows the school to know the child’s born gender, and the handbook agreement — which apparently was recommended by the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod — lists discretions for which a student can be disciplined and expelled, including homosexuality.

Because the school receives federal funds for its lunch program, transportation and through the No Child Left Behind program, it must comply with civil rights laws, Breitkreutz wrote. That means it can’t deny entry to protected classes, such as homosexual and transgender students.

“If we cannot legally refuse students who are struggling with homosexuality or gender identification, we must maintain our right to hold to the truths of God’s Word,” Breitkreutz wrote. “In other words, although we do not have the right to refuse admittance to people choosing an outwardly sinful lifestyle, we do maintain the right to discipline and dismiss students for these choices.”

Policy questioned

A nonprofit group that works to strengthen the separation between religion and government says because the school receives federal funding, its policies are not legal.

“It is problematic for a school that receives federal funds to discriminate against students because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Patrick Elliott, an attorney for the Madison-based Freedom From Religion Foundation. “Schools that are supported with taxpayer money must comply with minimum civil rights standards. St. John’s Lutheran School has indicated that it will dismiss students on an illegal basis under federal law.”

The Foundation filed a discrimination complaint against the school, saying it discriminates against students on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction has forwarded the complaint to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal free and reduced-price lunch program.

“As these students are unable to attend the school, they are unable to participate in free and reduced price lunch programs,” the Foundation’s complaint states.

American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin Associate Director Molly Collins declined to comment on the St. John’s letter, saying she didn’t have enough information based on the facts that have been presented so far.

Expulsion possible

Breitkreutz said the school’s policy with regard to homosexual and transgender students is similar to its policies for other behaviors that the church considers sinful, such as cheating or fighting with fellow students.

“We definitely don’t have a goal of finding a way to kick students out,” Breitkreutz said. “I mean, that’s not the goal. The goal is to share with them God’s word.”

The school has not had to discipline a homosexual or transgender student in his two years there, Breitkreutz said. But if a student displayed those tendencies, school officials would try to patiently instruct the child.

If the child was not receptive, and continued to live with a sexual orientation or gender identity that is not endorsed by St. John’s, the school board would have the right to expel that student, Breitkreutz said.

St. John’s Pastor Nick Maglietto said the February letter was intended to let parents know about the church’s views with regard to homosexual and transgender people prior to enrollment.

“So rather than us trying to weed them out, it’s more letting them know where we’re coming from up front and making their choice based on whether this would be an environment for their child,” he said.

Although Maglietto said the school does not intend to exclude people, he said it is “not welcoming” to homosexual and transgender students. But it is the parents’ choice to enroll their child or not.

Investigation underway

President Barack Obama recently instructed public schools to allow transgender students the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identity, rather than their birth certificate. Schools that don’t comply may be sued and lose federal funding.

The announcement has added to the ongoing national discussion over transgender rights, and prompted pushback from officials in several states that take issue with the directive.

With regard to the St. John’s letter, the USDA has opened an investigation based on the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s complaint.

“USDA is reviewing this complaint,” said USDA spokeswoman Amanda Heitkamp. “We are firmly committed to ensuring federal protections against discrimination with respect to all of our programs and activities.”

Breitkreutz said if the school’s policies are deemed a violation of civil rights protections, school officials may forego the federal funds, which he said are a great help to many students there.

To parents and others who may question why St. John’s school officials deem themselves worthy of judging others, Breitkreutz said it all comes back to the Bible.

“I certainly don’t want to give anybody the impression that I’m looking down my nose at anybody,” he said. “I try to do everything with humility and love and respect. But we are known by our words and actions, whether or not we hold true to God’s word or not.”

“So rather than us trying to weed them out, it’s more letting them know where we’re coming from up front and making their choice based on whether this would be an environment for their child.” The Rev. Nick Maglietto, St. John’s pastor

Baraboo News Republic reporter

(44) comments

j j

Don't you wonder if Barack pees in the same bathroom at the same time one of his daughters do!!!

j j

Justpostingonce. I agree with every aspect you posted.

"That’s why they have set up their private school to begin with. If it was meant to accept everyone, it would be called public." Dah!

Some people can't sink that into their thick numbsculls, like many other issues. The lunch program benefits the poor children and their family, NOT THE SCHOOL. Dah!

Today, my children would not be enrolled in a public school. I and most other common sense parents don't want little boys or big boys peeing in the same bathroom as our daughters, I and most common sense parents don't want boys and girls showering together. Can you imagine the little boys and big boys getting a.....you know what..... in the shower rooms!!! Sex starts at an early age today. Anyone with a normal working brain can figure that out.

Barack is evil to even think about men and women peeing in the same bathroom. Men dripple and spray on floors. So do you women want to step in it? Contamination on soles being spread around in public places, especially in grocery stores. Grocery stores do set their items on floors while arranging shelves.

Barry Wilcox

It must be really hard for you at some restaurants and other small businesses that only have a single restroom. Port-a-potties must be devastating for you. How do you know that the person using the stall in the men's room is a man, woman, child, transgender, gay or whatever? You may "dripple and spray" on the floor, but I don't. Most men don't. You should try to be more careful.

j j

Guy, you are trying very hard to be cute. It's not working.

Barry Wilcox

That doesn't answer my question. " How do you know that the person using the stall in the men's room is a man, woman, child, transgender, gay or whatever?" And you should try to me more careful I don't want to walk in you "dripple and spray" either.

j j

: ) : ) : ) ...... Guy is going through a "potty stage".

Barry Wilcox

darkenskies said ": ) : ) : ) ...... Guy is going through a "potty stage".

You're the one who went on the rant about peeing. You still didn't answer the question.

Brett Torfin

"Kept out: School discourages gay, transgender enrollment." Does it bother anyone that the headline for this article misleads people into believing the school is trying to prevent kids from enrolling? The body of the article states clearly that this isn't the school's position.

Jack Barth

Can you read? The school principal, Breitkreutz, wrote. “In other words, although we do not have the right to refuse admittance to people choosing an outwardly sinful lifestyle, we do maintain the right to discipline and dismiss students for these choices.”

j j

ChristianSinner. The Baraboo News Republic is a lefty newspaper. It has been very
obvious for years. I know a past writer for the paper that leaned to the right, was getting threats, including family. That is how the Democrats operate throughout the country. Democrat avowed Communist, Saul Alinsky, author of "Rules for Radicals".

** "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it.” Cut off the support network and isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people and not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. (This is cruel, but very effective. Direct, personalized criticism and ridicule works.) One of the rules.

It has been proven the lies generated by the left, during the Mitt Romney campaign. Romney was accused by the left (on TV News daily for weeks) killing a woman that worked for his business and she had retired years before she died. Romney's company had nothing to do with it. We are not going to change the downright dirtiness of the left.

Vern Prat

The issue is which is greater, the freedom of religion or the separation of church and state. What it boils down to is that parents who send their children to this school have chosen this school based on their religion or personal beliefs. Whether they are struggling financially or they are doing well, parents have the freedom of religion and a right to send their children to whatever school they chose to apply to and then are accepted into.
Whether their child identifies as hetero or homosexual, the parents have a right to apply to any school that they choose for their child. The truth is, in this world, you don’t get to go wherever you apply. The people who run the organization have a say in whether they choose you back. My question is more toward the parents. Why in the world would you want to send your homosexual child to a school that is openly informing its attendees that they believe that homosexuality is a sin? If you agree with that belief, then who is fighting this battle for you? And if you do not agree with that belief, why would you send your homosexual child into a school that neither you nor the child agree with?
And to those who are defending the homosexual child’s rights, think about this: The religion and this particular school are not trying to prohibit this child from receiving lunch. They are not. They are informing parents that they reserve the right to ask that student to receive his or her lunch elsewhere if he or she does not comply with the rules that are set forth in the enrollment process.
Students are not in control of where the money for their food comes from. The food that a child receives at a school has nothing to do with the education that the child receives at the school. Are we going to ban children from bringing their lunch to a Christian preschool if their mother received funding for that lunch through WIC? Of course not. Everyone sees that as ridiculous. The same is true for Free and Reduced Lunch programs. It should not matter where the child is receiving his or her education. If they are American Citizens whose parents are struggling, the truth is that it shouldn’t matter which school they go to. Denying them the same privilege of lunch based on the fact that they attend a religious school goes against the separation of church and state. Federal programs shall not be denied based on religious affiliation. It does not go the opposite way. It simply was never meant to be that way. Religious beliefs have always been allowed to be taught at religious organizations and will hopefully always continue to be allowed to. However, those who disagree with those religious beliefs are not automatically accepted into the religious organization.
In life, you cannot always go where you want to go. You sometimes have to comply with the law of the land. If the law in the land that you are trying to enter says that practicing homosexuality will get you expelled from such land, don’t try to enter that land while practicing homosexuality.
What’s next? An attack on Christianity serving alcohol to minors on Sunday mornings? Or will it be an attack on priests remaining unmarried? Or perhaps speech teachers or other special needs teachers should not be allowed to service students in the district if the student’s parents choose private education for that child. What other issues of discrimination are coming? We have come a long way in the name of civil rights, but when will it end? Will it take until no religion is allowed to teach its beliefs unless they are deemed acceptable by the government? That sounds a bit against the separation of church and state.
Let the school teach what it believes, with conviction and integrity, sticking to the beliefs that it has. That’s something that we could all learn a little something from. Find something you believe in and defend it with your life and breath. Bring passion and purpose back. Enough of this PC “fairness.” Let the public schools accept everyone and teach just facts. Let the beliefs and conviction come from home and church/religion. Keep them separate, but if parents are paying taxes or eligible for taxpayer’s benefits, don’t take those benefits away based on where their child is educated. They pay taxes, too. They are supporting a public school that accepts everyone. They are helping the homosexuals to be in a place where they feel most comfortable by funding the local public school.
But, if a parent wants to keep children away from individuals who practice any kind of activity that is deemed immoral by the chosen religious code that parent follows, doesn’t the constitution afford that right as well? Are we not allowed to make choices for our children that we deem to be in their best interest? Shouldn’t government programs regarding the feeding of children depend more on financial need and not at all on religious affiliation? Shouldn’t religious organizations be allowed to have convictions and beliefs that go against popular opinion? Isn’t that why so many American ancestors became Americans to begin with?
Persecution is not of the LGBT student in society today. It continues to be persecution on an individual’s right to have any belief, whatsoever. We do not need to all believe the exact same thing. That is the beauty of America. Let the student who practices his right to be LGB or T also practice his right to apply to schools. If it is a publicly funded institution (as a whole, not as a lunch program), let him be accepted wholeheartedly. If it is a school for girls, let him be rejected. If it is a school for Muslims, let him be rejected. If it is a school for witches, let him be rejected. If it is a school for clowns, let him be rejected. If it is a school for conservative Christians, let him be rejected. Allow schools to discriminate based on their beliefs. That’s why they have set up their private school to begin with. If it was meant to accept everyone, it would be called public. Allow the separation of church and state while equally allowing students at any school to receive funding for lunch programs that they are entitled to as American Citizens. Give schools funding for anything that parents are entitled to receive for their children based on their status as tax-paying individuals. Most programs are run through schools because that’s where the kids needing those services are. It should not matter which building the child is in. If they need a speech teacher, one should come. If they need a meal, one should come. If they need Child Protective Services, a social worker should come. If there is a need, it should be filled based on the fact that they're US citizens, not denied because of where they attend school. If they do not comply with the institutions policies, they should be dismissed.

Barry Wilcox

Good thought provoking comment, Justpostingonce . I haven't taken a firm position on this issue yet and you've given me something to consider. Your comment about the federal funding for lunches being a benefit to the child and not to the school sticks in my mind. I think it draws a fine line between separation of church and state and denying a child benefit because of their religion.

Jim Roets

If you don't like the policy, don't send your kids there. It seems so simple, but common sense apparently isn't as common as the name implies.

Amy Sample

What is the punishment for parents who commit adultery or don't tithe? Will they also be banned from the school and church. What hateful hypocrites!

Mary Wietzke

WELS doesn't teach tithing because Jesus changed that Old Testament law. People are encouraged to give what they choose, from the heart. As far as adultery, the Bible speaks as strongly against that sin as homosexuality. And yes, if a person commits adultery and isn't repentant they will have to leave the church. Christians are NOT perfect and I don't know a WELS person who claims to be. We are sinners who daily repent of our sins and try to live a God pleasing life. I know that when you don't believe as we do or know the Bible it is hard for you to understand but our motivation is love. We believe that people who come to us are wanting to hear God's word. We aren't going to lie about what it says. We don't go and hunt people down and try to change them we only share God's word with those who come to us and want to hear it. But finally, the argument is stupid because the money doesn't make any difference to the schools. They are funded completely separate from the government. It just helps poor kids get free lunch. If this ends they will just have to pack a lunch to school - not a big deal! If you want to find a religion of hate, research Muslims. They are huntung down and killing homosexuals. We just tell people who come to us what God says about thier actions. We don't hate homosexuals. We love them and all people as God commands us to.

Brett Torfin

Amen Brother!

Brett Torfin

If they show no remorse, continue to sin willingly and make no effort to control their actions, yes, they will be expelled or excommunicated. Love the sinner, hate the sin. AmeliaJayne, there is right and wrong, good and evil, correct and incorrect. This isn't a gray area issue for politicians to banter about based on which way the political or social issues of the day are blowing. We're expected to live a certain way because it's better for us here on earth, and eternally.

j j

Adultery has been committed by Lutherans, Baptist, Catholics, etc. since churches existed. None of them have been banned from private schools, churches.

Ameliajayne, you are a hypocrite for even thinking that and posting a lie!!

L. Lazcano

I'm surprised WELS and the church/school accept federal funding. The whole purpose of having a church-sponsored or independent school is to avoid such government mandates tied to the funding.

I think the synod, church and school should stop accepting federal funding and do without the school/taxpayer provided lunches. If parents say they will not re-enroll in the school because the school doesn't provide lunch, then their priorities are screwed up.

Let them go to public schools if "free lunch" is the parents' main goal for their children's education.

If they're looking for "free lunch" in life, then no Lutheran, Catholic or other Christian school experience/teaching/immersion is going to change them anyway.

If the school enrollment would drop drastically, so be it. Work with families and students who use their brains to put Christian education and academics first, and who teach their children what ours did: "There's no such thing as a free lunch".

WELS schooling taught us a work ethic that would indicate that the responsibility for feeding our children is ours. Put that in the handbook and move on to academics!

Jim Roets

The whole problem lies with the Federal control of education. The Constitution clearly prohibits it, yet, Jimmy Carter got the camels nose of big government under the tent when he created the Department of Education, and look where it gets us. (It's not one of the enumerated powers listed in Article 1, Section 8) We spend more to achieve less and are told to feel good about it. The very first amendment states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" Does it seem like they are being allowed to exercise their religion?

Jack Barth

"They can exercise their religion all they want. It's just not right for them to receive tax dollars (or government benefits).

Jim Roets

I agree. Eschew federal funds, be free.

Jim Roets

So to be clear, are you saying that they should lose their first amendment rights if they receive any federal dollars?

Jack Barth

What I'm saying is that, if tax money is financing the school, they forfeit the right to discriminate.

Jim Roets

And who gets to define what is discriminatory? Not the good folks at St. Johns, apparently. At least you are willing to relieve them of that responsibility. May your chains rest lightly upon your wrists...unless you're in the the leadership group, then you're good to go.

Jack Barth

My chains? How about my tax dollars? Public money should support public schools, period. Besides, my dog is bigger. (just kidding) Have a good weekend and enjoy this weather. (your dog looks very nice)

Barry Wilcox

@ Jackalope What do you think of the points that Justpostingonce made. In particular the one about the federal money for school lunches not being a benefit for the school but a benefit for the child. From that perspective it could look like the child is being denied a federal lunch benefit because of his/her religion. Maybe you need a federal benefit to feed your dog.

Jack Barth

guy, I think Justpostingonce's speech is a long winded rationalization that boils down to "give me my entitlements". I agree with Alan Peterson's posts.

Barry Wilcox

@ Jackalope You and I have different religious convictions so I doubt that we will ever agree completely on this or similar issues. I understand your perspective that your tax dollars shouldn't support a religious education. From my perspective I pay taxes to support the public schools. While I agree that taxes shouldn't support the religious based education I chose for my children I wonder if a lunch program is part of the religious based education or a benefit ensuring my children receive a healthy meal. It could be seen as denying the lunch program to my children because of their religion. In any case, I think this situation could be easily resolved by the school if they would rewrite parts of their policy to eliminate any reference to gay or transsexuals or give up the federal lunch money. They haven't discriminated against anyone yet.

Not exactly on topic, but related...out of my curiosity, what do you think of federal funds in scholarships, grants or student loans or other federal funds going to religious connected colleges like Marquette, Viterbo or Notre Dame?

Jack Barth

guy, When it comes to the college funding, I really don't know.

Barry Wilcox

@ Jackalope I don't know either. It seems like for separation of church and state there is one standard for federal funding for K-12 schools and a different standard for colleges. Maybe there needs to be different standards. Maybe funding for schools should be more clearly defined as to whether it is a benefit to the student or to the school.

Pat Nash

The wording, "weed them out" says it all. These children are not "weeds". They are almost always gentle, compassionate beings who are bullied and taunted, often by so-called Christians. Being gay or transexual is not a choice, and anyone who has known a gay or transgender child as he or she grows up knows this. Anyone who chooses to educate themselves also knows they can't be counseled out of who they are any more than we can be counseled to change our eye color. To expel a student because of who they are when they were born is ignorance and bigotry masked in religious garb. It has NOTHING to do with the teachings of Jesus. In fact, he would weep if he read the letter. I hope families remove their children from this school as soon as possible and that taxpayers who are paying for the vouchers parents use to send kids there should be rising up in protest that their tax dollars are going to schools run by bigots like this one.

Brett Torfin

How we arrive at being homosexual or transsexual or any sexual deviance is irrelevant. What we do once we recognize our tendency is what counts. We were all born with the capacity to lie, cheat, steal, be greedy and selfish and to kill. If I'm unhappy with my progressive liberal professor preaching evolution, denouncing Christianity and telling me I caused the earth to warm, should I be able to kill them? I can't help it. I was born with the capacity to hate. You see, we all have to control our natural tendencies under God's law and in a civil society. This is for our own good and the good of all. Imagine if we were all free to express our full natural tendencies without repercussion. Yes, Jesus does teach us to love everyone. He also teaches us through God's Word to despise all sin. This school is not preventing anyone from enrolling. It is simply asking them to control their sinful nature, the same way it asks students to control lying, cheating and sexual immorality between opposite sexes.

barry schwingel

Everone is a child of God,that is our identity, not by our sexual preference at a certain time. People have the free will to turn away from sin, but need help sometimes. Fostering evil is never a form oder kindness.

Mary Wietzke

The federal funding is used to help the students not really the school. The WELS schools do not make a profit from providing a great education for the kids who attend. As a matter of fact, most WELS schools lose money financially. Taking away this funding will not do any harm to the school but it will harm low income parents because of the religious beliefs that they hold. That is discrimination against poor people who happen to be Christians.

Alan Peterson

When is the last time you saw a child expelled from a public school (any public school, not just locally) for having outwardly demonstrated religious beliefs? Our public schools in Baraboo are far more inclusive of everyone, serving all humbly who enter their doors, than our local religious school, which purports itself to be Christian in value but whose actions are decidedly judgment-laden, exclusive, and not about serving the needs of all. Let's face it: modern public schools are filling the role once filled by the "church": they accept everyone who comes to their door, they serve everyone, they look for ways to minister to all of a child's or family's needs (offering nutritional support, health and wellbeing support, mental and emotional health support, providing structure, sanctuary, intervention and advocacy) and they do so without question. If Christianity is all about acceptance and service to your fellow man, then let your actions demonstrate the core beliefs of your faith. Or, perhaps they actually do, in this case, just as the actions of the public schools do in demonstrating their core belief of truly supporting everyone in our community.

Jack Barth

[thumbup] Well said, Alan Peterson. The only thing I would add is a "mic drop".

Brett Torfin

Mr. Peterson is looking at this from the viewpoint of inclusiveness. The school is making decisions based on what God instructs.
We're taught to love the sinner, but hate the sin. He is correct that the school, all schools, should openly accept and invite all children to enroll. However, God has clearly instructed us as to what is right and what is wrong.
If your child chooses to use drugs, run into the street or engage in premarital sex it's not love to turn a blind eye. In this case it doesn't matter if you believe transsexual, homosexual, bisexual etc. are choices, or biology, God has told us they are sins. Period.

barry schwingel

Christianity accepts all people with every single, but does not accept the sin. Fostering a child's inclination to further their sin is absurd. Love and kindness can be difficult, but for the sake of helping the person it was to be delt with in a charitable way. Public Schools proffess moral relativism, which is a detriment to society. Government laws are only just if they co- inside with God's natural moral law.

Jordan Higgins

If I ran a school, and I accepted everyone but punished and eventually expelled kids for having Christian beliefs, do you know what that is called? Discrimination.
What's the difference with LGBT youth?

Brett Torfin

Being Christian isn't a sin.

Charles Darwin

How dare these disgusting religious types stand up for what they believe! There's nothing more off-putting than having actual conviction. Bravo to these brave atheists, though, who are fighting hard to make sure that poor Christian kids aren't allowed to have lunch anymore!

Alan Peterson

Fair enough. The school has a right to have conviction for their beliefs, and they can act on them. However, they cannot choose to violate federal laws in the name of God and still expect to receive funding from the secular federal government. I am all for St. John's standing by their beliefs, and giving families an informed choice to know that, if they go there, these are the values upon which the educational environment will be built. However, St. John's should then also recognize that there are others who also have conviction for their beliefs, and they will act on them.

So, to be clear: the situations are 100% parallel. St. John's, you request federal funds to support your school (which includes food requests as well as accepting state and federal tax dollars (called Title Funds) from the public schools). The public, as a society, believes in supporting the word of Law. Therefore, the government, as ministers of the word of Law, reserves the right to discipline or dismiss you from our society of funding if you display sinful behavior that is in violation with Law's word. To be fair, we are just giving you an informed choice of whether you participate before you enroll in federal reimbursements that require you to follow Law's word.

Pat Nash

Why should taxpayers pay for children to go to these schools? It's not just the free lunches, it's the vouchers per child we state citizens are paying for children to attend a religious school that is defying federal law by discriminating against children who have done nothing wrong, haven't hurt anyone, and most likely never will? Comparing being gay or trans to fighting is absolutely ignorant.

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