Elizabethtown school board engages with right-wing Christian law firm

(Photo: Adobe Stock)

This week, the newly Republican-dominated Elizabethtown Area School District (EASD) board signaled that it was ready to follow the same path toward extremism and chaos recently taken by many other Republican school boards in Pennsylvania

On June 25, the EASD board voted overwhelmingly 8-1 to engage the services of the radically conservative Christian firm Independence Law Center as special counsel, despite spirited opposition from the community. The firm will be helping the school district craft new policies dealing mostly with LGBTQ+ issues, with a likely focus on trans issues, under the new Title IX guidelines being handed down in August by the Biden Administration.

Independence Law Center has partnered with dozens of schools statewide to help develop discriminatory policies targeting trans students and other marginalized students. Its website proudly touts the many legal cases it has fought against abortion, for the right of Christians to discriminate, and other alleged “Christian family values” causes.

For the last several years, Independence Law Center has been aggressively recruiting schools across Pennsylvania, offering their services pro bono to help the schools craft policies that align with the firm’s extremist right-wing ideology. However, their “free” services do eventually come at a cost, as other school districts have learned.

EASD’s board meeting was preceded by a rally of concerned residents to protest the likely engagement with the firm, and to try to convince Republican board members to change their probable vote.

The public discussion segment that took place before the board’s vote went on for several hours, with residents lined up to speak for and against the Independence Law Center. Residents speaking in favor of the firm quoted bible verses, with many also speaking on issues right out of the MAGA talking points manual. Those speaking against the firm mostly spoke in more secular terms, such as the need for the school to provide a conducive environment for all students. One big concern for many was the probable long-term cost of Independence Law Center’s allegedly free services, citing recent events at Central Bucks School District (CBSD) as a reason not to engage the firm.

CBSD had implemented several of Independence Law Center’s recommended policies, and was subsequently sued and lost. Because of the firm’s arrangement with CBSD, the school’s insurance would not pay for any judgment or expenses incurred, leaving Bucks County taxpayers on the hook for many hundreds of thousands of dollars in judgments, fees and expenses. Elizabethtown residents raised the specter of a similar scenario unfolding at their school, with one resident cautioning, “What is free is sometimes not a good deal.”

Other residents expressed reluctance to deal with a hate group. Certain groups Independence Law Center is affiliated with have been classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And they questioned the need for the firm’s services, given that EASD already engaged two other law firms as solicitors.

Criticisms were also leveled at the board for how it had handled the Independence Law Center matter up to then, with issues of transparency of primary concern. The board had had several closed or secret meetings with the firm, not making a public announcement of the impending vote until the June 11 board meeting.

Prior to the vote, board members spoke to address some of the points raised by residents and justified the decision to engage with the firm. Some of the members vehemently denied charges of lack of transparency, and some reiterated their conservative Christian bona fides. Many also took a defensive tone, casting themselves as victims of hate speech from residents who opposed the Independence Law Center.

One board member asserted that the Republican members of the board were not engaging in discrimination, playing politics or pursuing any specific agenda.

“We’re having an agenda thrust upon us,” the board member said.

The lone dissenter on the board, James Read, also made a point of being a conservative Christian, but said that engaging Independence Law Center would aggravate the divisiveness the community was experiencing.

And one member maintained that the firm was not being discriminatory, and that ILD’s proposals “have nothing to do with LGBTQ kids. It has to do with Title IX. They’re not being discriminatory.”

However, Jeremy Samek, Independence Law Center’s lead counsel told an audience at a workshop to be proud of their LGBTQ+ discrimination, to “own it,” because they are discriminating with “a good reason.”

Newsletter Sign-up