Christian reform school sues Missouri over new surveillance law
A Christian boarding school that fought government control for decades is suing the Missouri Department of Human Services to prevent it from implementing new regulations on unlicensed facilities.
CNS International Ministries, also known as Heartland, filed a lawsuit in federal court last week attacking the new law.
Gov. Mike Parson enacted the measure in July after an emotional outcry from lawmakers, children’s advocates and former students who said the state was in desperate need of oversight of Missouri’s ailing boarding schools.
Heartland is doing what it did almost 20 years ago, attacking what it sees as an excessive interference by the government on its religious freedoms. In 2002-03, the school, its founder Charles Sharpe and his supporters foiled all legislative attempts to regulate non-accredited boarding schools.
Heartland is now attacking the three-month-old law, calling it “contrary to clearly established law.”
“This is not the first time Heartland has been forced to take refuge in federal court over unconstitutional assault by Missouri officials,” the lawsuit said. “And in some cases, they (the new law and the new regulations) require Heartland to violate established federal statutory requirements ensuring the privacy of individuals in drug and alcohol recovery programs.”
Sponsored by Representatives Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville and Keri Ingle, D-Lee’s Summit, HB 557 and 560 have for the first time implemented government oversight of state boarding schools that have operated under the radar for decades. Schools are now required to report the status of their existence, perform employee background checks, and comply with health and safety inspections.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 12 in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, describes Heartland as a Missouri nonprofit with more than 50 employees that provides full-time residential services to men, women and children with behavioral problems or addictions to alcohol or drugs. The facility also operates a school that serves the children of those who participate in its recovery program, as well as the children of its employees, according to the lawsuit.