Wells Fargo and Fifth Third announced this week they will no longer donate to help poor, minority children attend better Christian schools, because the banks’ leaders think Christian teachings about sex are bigoted. Last year, the two corporations donated $5.4 million to Florida’s tax-credit scholarship program, which assists more than 100,000 children, approximately 70 percent of whom are black, Hispanic, and multiracial.
“All of us at Wells Fargo highly value diversity and inclusion, and we oppose discrimination of any kind,” said a spokeswoman.
Fifty-eight percent of the children who participated in this program in 2015-16 had single mothers. Their average family income was $25,550, near the federal poverty line. Researchers found that “on average, students who choose the scholarship were struggling academically in their prior public school,” and that these struggling children bump up their achievement to match that of richer kids with better schools within several years of joining the program.
The banks ended their support for the poor minority children after a harassment campaign by the Orlando Sentinel. The newspaper went after Christian schools in articles accusing them of hating LGBT people due to religious teachings about sex that are shared by the majority of the world’s faithful, including Muslims and Jews. Then the newspaper contacted major donors to the scholarships, including Fifth Third and Wells Fargo, to pressure them into recanting. It worked.
“After the [Orlando Sentinel] story ran, Fifth Third changed its mind,” the Orlando Sentinel article on the banks’ withdrawal from the donations says. The banks now say they will not participate in the program until state lawmakers discriminate against religious schools that uphold their faiths’ historic sexual ethics.
The Sentinel reviewed documents of more than 1,000 private religious schools that take state scholarships and found 156 have policies that say gay and transgender students can be denied enrollment or expelled or that explain the school opposes their sexual orientation or gender identity on religious grounds.
Those campuses served more than 16 percent of the students who received tax credit scholarships during the 2018-2019 school year, records from [scholarship organization] Step Up For Students and the Florida Department of Education show.
Since the Sentinel first reported on the issue last summer, four other companies, including Central Florida-based Rosen Hotels & Resorts, Inc., have withdrawn support.
The attempt to manipulate the private sector to accomplish what the state legislature has repeatedly rebuffed has, however, at least partly backfired. In the middle of this brouhaha, the state’s largest scholarship organization announced a new $35 million donation from Breakthru Beverage Florida, a large beverage distributor.
By law, the scholarship donation pool automatically expands if donations exceed 90 percent of the cap in a given year, and it has frequently hit that ceiling since its inception 19 years ago. The current cap is $559.1 million, a tiny fraction of the state’s annual $28 billion expenditure on K-12.
“Private schools that won’t admit or would discipline gay students harm LGBTQ youngsters who might be enrolled and others who absorb those bigoted messages,” the Orlando Sentinel paraphrased from comments by Florida state Rep. Carlos Smith. Smith’s complaining on Twitter helped get the newspaper to “investigate” poor minority Christian children receiving a better education than in their former public schools. “It’s poisoning kids minds,” Smith told the Sentinel. “We should not be funding these schools.”
Meanwhile, publicly funded venues across Florida, including state universities, host Drag Queen Story Hour, and numerous public schools across the state, including public universities, teach students that it’s possible to change one’s sex from female to male or vice versa. One school district even threatened a male gym teacher for refusing to watch a female student in the locker room, a situation that is still unresolved.
Can religious and science-minded taxpayers halt their contributions to these organizations that discriminate against their viewpoints and promote hatred of their values? Are the poor black and brown parents fleeing to Christian schools participating in their “bigotry”? Or does “tolerance” and “diversity” only ratchet in one direction?