School Choice: Carson v. Makin, Part II

In Sunday’s message I discussed the very positive impact of the United States Supreme Court’s striking down a Maine tuition subsidy statute that excluded “sectarian,” i.e., religiously affiliated schools. The court wrote that “a State need not subsidize private education, but once a State decides to do so, they cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.” The court held that conditioning the availability of benefits in that manner, Maine’s tuition assistance program effectively penalizes the free exercise” of religion. We couldn’t agree more, Chief Justice Roberts!


Justice Breyer’s Dissent

Equally instructive is the dissent in this 6-3 decision written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor. Citing a long line of flawed but unreversed legal precedents, Breyer complained – predictably – that mandating such payments to sectarian schools violated the establishment clause of the First Amendment. Just as predictably, Breyer cited Thomas Jefferson’s famous dictum from the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical.” To which I reply, EXACTLY, Justice Breyer! That is exactly what is going on in government schools.

He also quotes James Madison who cautioned that compelled taxpayer sponsorship of religion “is itself a signal of persecution [which] will destroy that moderation in harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with Religion, has produced among its several sects.”

Jefferson and Madison were rightly concerned with laws in some colonies that forced taxpayers to support a specific church, e.g., the Church of England, as the official church of that particular colony. This arrangement galled the Puritans, Catholics, Quakers and everyone else. Because such laws are inherently divisive, the founders proscribed them in the antiestablishment clause of the First Amendment. Thus, one religious sect could not use the power of government to oppose another religion and advance its own doctrines. Under the protection of the First Amendment, America’s many religious sects were able to achieve social and political comity.

Anti-Establishment vs. Anti-Religion

While the founders discovered a way to prevent one religion from attacking another using taxes as a cudgel, they never contemplated, much less provided for, circumstances where government became hostile to religion itself. And yet that is exactly what has occurred in our government schools and elsewhere in the public square.
Bear in mind that our current government school system did not exist at the time. In fact, the idea of universal, compulsory, taxpayer-funded schools is only a little over 100 years old. Nothing like it existed anywhere in America before the late 19th century. The Little Red Schoolhouse with a few kids and a school marm became The Big Red Schoolhouse consuming hundreds of billions of dollars annually and fielding legions of government agents advancing a world view opposed to the very idea religion. It has become the primary vehicle for the radical transformation of America.

Religion and Ideology: No Difference

Let us go back to the Jefferson quotation. Note that part of the quotation makes no mention of
“religion.” Instead, it condemns any arrangement that compels a man to “furnish contributions of
money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves…” These “opinions” can take many forms
some of which may be defined as religion while others may be more accurately described as ideology.
And that is exactly what is going on in government schools: political and ideological indoctrination.
Forcing parents to support a social and political ideology is no less odious than being required to support
another’s religious creed. Being forced to participate in such a system by means of a coercive and
confiscatory tax system is plainly “sinful and tyrannical.”

Modern Tyrants

Justice Breyer focuses on one kind of opinion called “religion,” while ignoring another set of opinions
which together constitute the toxic brew we call “public education.” In the past, the
Establishmentarians were content merely to have the public subsidize their opinions. Modern tyrants,
on the other hand, seek not only subsidy for but assent to their opinions. Not content with our money
they demand that we agree with them and make our children sit in their classrooms until they do too.
This is not your Founding Fathers’ pew tax!

This is one of many reasons why it is urgent that Californians qualify and pass The Educational Freedom
Act. This responsibility for doing so rests on each of us. Here is what you can do now.

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Mike Alexander