The Bergen Arts and Science Charter School is a taxpayer-funded public charter school in New Jersey run by a private non-profit organization. But their landlord is the Catholic Church, and because of this, the school was forced to paint over a 16-year-old student’s LGBTQ-supportive mural after parishioners complained about it being “offensive” and “obscene,” according to The New Civil Rights Movement (NCRM).
The mural reportedly showed two interlocking male symbols and a rainbow heart underneath two cartoonish human figures painted in the style of gay artist Keith Haring. The rainbow heart has since been painted over in red to resemble a generic heart.
“There are other portions that were also destroyed,” NCRM wrote.
In a statement, the Archdiocese of Newark said it’s investigating the incident and added that the school building is also used by Church parishioners. The Church claims it didn’t ask the school to remove or paint over any part of the mural.
If it’s confusing why a public school would use a Church building, NorthJersey.com explains:
“Charter schools are public schools that are privately managed. As charter schools have grown, many have taken up residence in empty properties owned by the Catholic Church.
A lease agreement for the school includes a stipulation about Catholic values. ‘Due to the Catholic nature of the Landlord, Tenant promises to conduct no affairs or establish any organizations that would be contrary to its Catholic moral values, ethics and faith,’ the lease states.”
In its statement, the Archdiocese said, “The mural violated that understanding in its permanent nature – directly painted on the surface – and in some of the content.”
So while the Archdiocese might not have told the school to paint over the heart, it apparently did tell the school that “some symbols of sexuality that were inappropriate for the building” and violated the lease agreement, which is really just a thinly veiled threat since a landlord is free to revoke a lease if its agreements aren’t met.
The unnamed 16-year-old queer-identified female student artist protested her treatment on social media:
“So…my school’s owned by a Catholic Church and they want me to take down my Keith Haring mural that supports the LGBT community,” wrote the student, who did not want her name published. “They think it’s inappropriate and wrong for a school setting. I’m heartbroken and I really never thought this could actually happen. Please help.”
“This school is infringing on my rights just as much as the church now. A public school is complicit in discrimination.”
In a statement, Christian Fuscarino, Executive Director of Garden State Equality, wrote, “It is offensive, unconscionable, and flatly unconstitutional for this church acting as a for-profit landlord to restrict a public school’s curriculum or censor student speech within those walls. This type of hate-fueled bigotry is precisely why New Jersey needs LGBTQ-inclusive curriculum to promote acceptance and understanding.”