Critics accuse Mesa charter school of pushing religion

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

MESA, Ariz. -- Heritage Academy Charter School in Mesa is under fire, accused of pushing religion on its students.

The Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a new complaint against the school with the Arizona Board for Charter Schools.

It specifically cites the use of two books written by controversial author Cleon Skousen.

The complaint letter says the curriculum, used with seniors, "...does not merely acknowledge the influence of religion in the nation's founding, but actively promotes and endorses specific religious views and ideologies."

"The 5,000 Year Leap," the group says, focuses heavily on scripture and cites Bible stories as fact. 

Heritage Academy's principal, Earl Taylor, defends the use of Skousen's books. He says his school focuses on the teachings of the Founding Fathers, whose writings frequently involved religion.

"We read the Founders. We try to analyze what made them do what they did," he told 3TV. "We don't require Bible reading in this school. We don't teach creationism in this school."

Chapters and headings in the book include, "All Things Were Created by God" and "Principles of Law (are) Based on God's Law."

"Every one of those ideas you've read, I can give you a Founder's quote. All (Skousen) is doing is helping the reader understand what the Founders mean," Taylor explained.

Critics cite similar complaints against the second book, "The Making of America," and also voice concern about a slavery essay inside.

The author makes claims including "(slave) gangs in transit were usually ... cheerful" and "slave owners were the worst victims of the system."

Taylor says that part of the book is not included in classroom teachings.

The first official complaint was dismissed by the state. A second complaint is pending.

Roughly 600 students in grades seven to 12 attend the school, which was founded 19 years ago.