Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?
On this 4th of July, the country faces divisive problems, including losing democratic public schools that collectively open their doors to children from families of all faiths, including agnostics and atheists.
And there’s a drive to replace teachers with nonprofessionals like tutors and volunteers who believe teaching is a breeze and that children should be Christian and reject anyone who fails to look and act as they do.
Along with the drastic decision to remove Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court broke down the wall of Separation of Church and State in public schools, which could change the way schools work, and how they welcome children with differences, inching us closer to a theocracy.
Remembering Bible Wars
In Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, the Court weighed in favor of Coach Joseph Kennedy’s “right” to pray in the Bremerton High School locker room before kickoff and on the field at the end of games.
Especially troubling is that the Justices wrote falsehoods about the case, namely that Kennedy prayed quietly without disturbing anyone.
The reality is that students surrounded him, and the school district officials never mistreated and fired Kennedy. They accommodated him by placement on paid leave for refusing to listen to school administrators.
Incredibly, six justices, all Catholic, except Gorsuch who is Episcopalian, appear to want to put Christian prayer back into schools despite the fact that there can be extreme differences between Christian churches.
Do they not know the history of the Philadelphia Bible Riots?
In 1838 the State Legislature of Pennsylvania passed a law stating that the Protestant King James Bible was a mandatory textbook in public schools. This meant Catholic children in public schools would now have to read from a book their faith did not approve; children who refused were likely subject to ridicule.
In 1844, fighting broke out between Protestants and Catholics in Philadelphia; a number of people died in the violence and several Catholic churches were burned. Similar conflicts erupted during the 1850s in Boston and other parts of New England. In the early 20th century, liberal Protestants and their secular allies battled religious conservatives over whether students in biology classes should be taught Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Catholic parochial schools resulted from mistreating Irish Catholic school children who sought a public education.
Catholics also have a troubling history of religious indoctrination. We’re reminded recently of the gruesome legacy of the residential schools for Indigenous children. Catholic religious orders ran schools forcing children into cultural assimilation in the name of religion.
In America, children and families with various cultural backgrounds have the freedom to worship the way they want, and public schools should honor this. Students and staff shouldn’t be subjected to another person’s beliefs or by anyone proselytizing to join their religion in school.
Evangelicals: Teachers as Christian Soldiers
Evangelical Southern Baptists, who once implored families to remove their children from public school, decided to take over those schools by putting Christians on school boards and working from the inside to push back on the legality of the Separation of Church and State.
A 2006 report in the Memphis The Commercial Appeal described a Baptist Church conference about issues that give Christian soldiers [teachers] their marching orders (Sparks).
The meeting, sponsored by the Christian Educators Association International, a group claiming they’re nondenominational and neutral, slammed the NEA along with the ACLU for doing more to ruin our country than anyone else.
They expressed concern with the gay and lesbian agenda, but schools have always been a reflection of society and its changes. Teachers and their unions work towards inclusivity, helping all children to feel welcome in their schools.
Tax Dollars for Religion
The Supreme Court also struck down a Maine law Carson v. Makin, that kept parents from using vouchers for children’s education at religious schools. Vouchers to religious schools increased with NCLB, and religious charter schools, sometimes set up in churches, further broke the Separation of Church and State.
It paves the way for those who hate public education and teachers, like the President of Michigan’s ultra-conservative Hillsdale College, Dr. Larry Arnn, who recently disparaged public school teachers as the Tennessee Governor sat by and said nothing.
- “The teachers are trained in the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges in the country.”
- “They are taught that they are going to go and do something to those kids…. Do they ever talk about anything except what they are going to do to these kids?”
- “In colleges, what you hire now is administrators…. Now, because they are appointing all these diversity officers, what are their degrees in? Education. It’s easy. You don’t have to know anything.”
- “The philosophic understanding at the heart of modern education is enslavement…. They’re messing with people’s children, and they feel entitled to do anything to them.”
- “You will see how education destroys generations of people. It’s devastating. It’s like the plague.”
- “Here’s a key thing that we’re going to try to do. We are going to try to demonstrate that you don’t have to be an expert to educate a child because basically anybody can do it.”
Demeaning teacher professionalism in public schools allows for replacing teachers with cheaper, untrained individuals who believe teaching is easy and can readily indoctrinate their religious beliefs to children.
Hillsdale has 24 charter schools in 13 states and Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee recently invited the college to start 50 schools using public funds, including $32 million set aside for charter facilities (Saul, 2022). Hillsdale is working with state leaders across the country.
Public Schools for All
America requires schools that accept all children no matter their beliefs. Public schools should ensure that all children learn what they need to succeed in life, and if parents want something different, they can choose a private or parochial school.
The Separation of Church and State should remain sacred in democratic public schools.
This July 4th, our ever-evolving country, and the public schools that reflect America’s diversity need help. Every effort should go into creating educational institutions that are top-notch and where teachers are well-prepared to address the needs of all children without infringing on their religious freedom.
Happy 4th. Stay safe.
Sparks, J.W. (2006, July 15). Teachers group offers faith help for classroom. The Commercial Appeal.
Saul, S. (2022, April 10). A College Fights ‘Leftist Academics’ by Expanding Into Charter Schools. The New York Times, Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/10/us/hillsdale-college-charter-schools.html.