A bill to allow the state to cut off money to a school at Rajneeshpuram, the headquarters of a sect following an Indian guru, has been introduced in the Oregon House of Representatives.
Rep. Bill Bellamy (R-Culver) introduced the bill to permit the state to withhold money from schools "violating separation of church and state."
He said he had introduced it because of the school at Rajneeshpuram. "It's a private school," Bellamy said. "We do not give basic school support to any private school."
He said the bill would forbid distribution of state money "to any district which supports religious activity or attempts to influence religious belief."
Part of Bellamy's district is Rajneeshpuram, owned by followers of guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh.
Bellamy said he had asked Verne Duncan, state superintendent of schools, to withhold state money after Rajneesh followers won control of the former Antelope School District two years ago.
"He said he could not do it because the law did not allow him to," Bellamy said. "So I want to change the law to give him that authority."
Duncan recently visited the 115-student school and said later that education there is "permeated with religious symbolism."
Bellamy called the school "totally religiously oriented," and added, "There are no non-Rajneeshee kids in the school. The kids are seldom in the school building."
Bellamy said the Rajneeshees have a right to educate their children as they wish, but the state should not have to help fund that education.
Krishna Deva, mayor of Rajneeshpuram and a member of the school board there, denounced supporters of the bill as "fascist, bigoted Nazis." He added, "Every citizen has a right to have his child educated. It's not a religious school. The teachers don't even wear their malas [pictures of Rajneesh that his followers wear]. No religion is taught."
Walter Koscher, research analyst for the Oregon Department of Education, said the Rajneeshpuram district had been given $18,070 in state support for the current school year.