By Bob Fernandez
Pennsylvania’s richest charity, the 2,000-student Milton Hershey School for poor children, is seeking through sealed court actions to exempt itself from the state’s discrimination laws even as it spends millions of dollars defending itself against federal discrimination lawsuits.
The politically connected institution says it deserves the same discrimination exemptions as neighborhood parochial schools that advance the Catholic faith. The Hershey School, funded by a torrent of stock dividends and created by chocolate titan Milton Hershey as an orphanage, recruits low-income students throughout Pennsylvania and surrounding states.
Religion — such as chapel attendance — is part of the program, but the charity’s mission is to lift low-income children into the middle class.
The Hershey School faces federal lawsuits claiming that school officials forced house parents to attend evangelical church services and expelled depressed students. In 2012, the Hershey School settled with the Justice Department and the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania for rejecting admission to a teenager with HIV, agreeing to pay him and the federal government $715,000.
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