Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that Maine’s policy of allowing parents to use school vouchers for religious schools was not a violation of the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits the national government from establishing a state religion. In a rare moment of principle, Chief Justice John Roberts rightly asserted in the majority opinion that excluding religious schools from the voucher program was blatant religious discrimination.
This is significant for school choice. It illustrates just how feasible it is to implement school choice and how well it can work. Because the state is largely rural and students are scattered across such a wide area, it was a matter of necessity to outsource schooling to private organizations that could accommodate families where they were. By sending money to parents directly, Maine’s taxpayers are free from the massive cost of building so many campuses and staffing them.
Other state governments looking to save money on funding public schools while encouraging high-quality education may want to imitate this model. In most of the country, only the families who live in affluent areas or can pay for private schools have real access to a quality education. Meanwhile, poorer families are forced to rely on inferior public schools because they have no other options.
Moreover, the ruling of Carson v. Makin reaffirms a critical component of school choice — that there needs to be an actual choice between actual alternatives. A parent with a voucher may technically have a “choice” between various private, charter, and public schools in the area, but if all these schools operate the same way — which they do in most states by following numerous regulations in order to receive funding — that choice is meaningless.
Real choice involves a variety of formats and governing principles that accommodates the needs of the family. For one family, it may be a religious school that stresses a Christian lifestyle; for another family, it may be a school that specializes in preparing students for a trade; or for another family, it may be a school that accommodates students with learning disabilities.
Education Is Religious
Along with clarifying the meaning and practice of school choice, both the majority and dissenting opinions from the justices in this case illuminate a deeper truth about education and religion, which is that the two are closely intertwined. All education is religious, and all religion involves education. Learning doesn’t happen in a moral vacuum, and it’s dangerously absurd to insist otherwise.
Yet the idea that public schools are neutral in regards to religion is a pervasive myth for Americans, particularly leftists. Simply invoke the magic words, “separation of church and state,” vigorously prohibit all forms of prayer, and remove all references to God, and public school campuses will be purged of all religious influences, they seem to assume.
As anyone who has attended or taught at a public school knows, all of them are quite religious. It’s just that their religion is secular humanism. They’ve replaced God with model human beings (e.g., world leaders, civil rights activists, and scientists) that embody the standards they hope to inculcate. They’ve replaced the Apostle’s Creed with a slew of other creeds that pledge students to celebrate “diversity,” fight climate change, or attend college. And there’s always a consistent effort to replace the home and church community with the school community.
That makes every non-secular school dangerous, even heretical. This is why Justice Sonia Sotomayor described the funding of religious schools as “perverse.” These schools are indoctrinating students in a faith that is different from the established faith of public schools. And like the heretics of yore, they pose a threat to public order and must be put through a Spanish Inquisition or burned at the stake.
The Idea of Education Is Itself Christian
The great irony to all this is that the very idea of school is originally Christian. As outlined by St. Augustine in his masterpiece “De Doctrina Christiana” and carried out by the first universities and cathedral schools in the Middle Ages, school was always intended to be a means of systematically transferring Christendom’s values and beliefs to successive generations. Whatever the academic discipline was, whether music, logic, literature, or astronomy, these were modes of knowledge primarily designed to empower students to become successful Christian disciples.
Even though people like to think that schools today have long dispensed with their religious purpose and have substituted values and beliefs with knowledge and skills, they are sorely mistaken. One will always precede the other and be directly tied to it: values and beliefs must be established to incentivize the acquisition of knowledge and skills.
This is just as true for secular public schools as it is for Christian private schools. Whereas in the past, students learned in order to be like Jesus and His disciples, students today learn so they end up rich like Elon Musk or universally revered like Rosa Parks.
Humanism Better than What Some Leftists Want
However, as lackluster as secular humanism is as a guiding philosophy for education, it’s at least something. Anti-religious progressives want to go further and remove all discernable values and standards in public education — in the interest of equity and diversity, of course. They want all public schools to collectively disavow all their core principles and make “You do you! It’s all good!” their mission statement. In other words, they want to impose an insecure nihilism that seeks to marginalize and discredit all competing philosophies and religions.
In such an environment, students will sit through classes and question why they’re there. If the goal of school is whatever students want it to be, they’ll probably just want to mentally check out, play on their phone, and find meaning in the latest fad, whether that be vandalizing bathrooms or experimenting with different sexual identities. It’s not surprising that this adolescent acedia is increasingly becoming the norm at most public school campuses.
Hopefully, with this new ruling, more parents can send their children elsewhere and save their children’s souls along with their minds. The two can’t be separated, and it was always a mistake to assume that it’d be better if they were.