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Fundamentally Aware

 

Bringing America’s Own Religious Extremism to the Forefront

June 20, 2003

Volume 1, Number 8

 

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From the publisher

 

 

Welcome to issue 8 of Fundamentally Aware. If you’re not yet a subscriber to my complimentary e-newsletter, be sure to sign up. You’ll find details in the lower left column.

 

The national media blitz for The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America begins this August.  I’ve started scheduling book signings, so you can see when I’ll be visiting your area at http://www.newbostonbooks.com/Tours%20and%20Events.htm  This will be updated regularly, so check back if your city isn’t yet listed.

 

Now for the not-so-good news.  For the next few months, I’ll be publishing my Fundamentally Aware e-newsletter only once, rather than twice, a month. 

 

In this issue read the latest in the school voucher saga in “Who are the Voucher Visionaries?”  And tying in with this topic, read an excerpt from The Fundamentals of Extremism. 

 

As always, please feel free to share your comments with me.

 

Kimberly Blaker

 

KimberlyBlaker@chartermi.net

 

 

Contents

 

 

  1. The Voucher Debate

 

  2. Politically Incorrect

 

  3. Who are the Voucher Visionaries?  A look inside America ’s parochial schools

 

  4. Conservative Christian Views on Education

 

The Voucher Debate

 

The following is excerpted from Chapter 6: The Purgation of the First Amendment by John M. Suarez in The Fundamentals of Extremism.

 

Public education has been the main target of the radical religious right from the beginning. This is understandable because a vibrant and effective system of public education is incompatible with the establishment of a theocracy. The radical religious right has concluded it is necessary to malign public education as a step toward the goal of weakening through the denial of funding. Despite inherent constitutional flaws and the perennial absence of popular support, school vouchers continue to be promoted in a variety of settings and in different packages. Beginning in the state of New York in 1967, there have been more than twenty-five public referenda among many of the states. Voters have, nevertheless, consistently rejected the notion of vouchers and other tax aids to religious and private schools.[i] . . .

 

Despite the poor showing of vouchers in public referenda and in state legislatures, the persistent efforts of their proponents culminated in the United States Supreme Court's decision to revisit the issue 30 years after its last previous undertaking. In the case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris[ii], at the end of the 2002 judicial year, the Court concluded that vouchers were constitutional in a 5 to 4 decision. This came about even though 96% of the students involved in the Cleveland program were attending religious schools, and 82% of the participating schools were religious. The majority opined that the program did not intend to promote religion because the religious schools were not the only option. Justice Sandra O'Connor, the acknowledged swing vote, added that the public money assistance went to individual students and not directly to religious institutions. The minority opinion commented on the ongoing trend toward approving aid to religious schools, in the process gutting the Establishment Clause and weakening the wall of separation.[iii]

 

Although there were positive elements to be found in the decision, separationists had to come to grips with the fact that the issue of constitutionality, at least for now, had been disarmed. The decision, as expected, opened the flood gates in states and municipalities. Within two months it was reported that legislators in as many as 20 states were gearing to introduce voucher bills.[iv] . . .

 

The Zelman decision resurrected for consideration and discussion a couple of earlier, seldom mentioned, Supreme Court decisions. In the 1973 Nyquist decision[v], the voucher program was struck down because it created incentives for parents to select religious schools instead of secular ones, and it provided assistance only to children attending private schools. Later in 1973, in the Sloan decision[vi], the Court disallowed another program nearly identical to the one in Nyquist. The Zelman majority discussion articulated that any voucher program must provide adequate public and secular options to survive constitutional scrutiny.

 

With the issue of constitutionality removed at the federal level, voucher opponents turned their focus to the states. A review of state constitutions revealed that in at least 37 of them there is language that bars tax funds for sectarian institutions. In most of them, the critical language resides within sections labeled "Blaine Amendments." As expected, these sections have become targets of the radical religious right and other voucher proponents, under the primary argument that they reflect nineteenth century anti-Catholicism. The strategies for doing away with the Blaine Amendments include "persuading state courts to interpret them narrowly, having federal courts declare them in conflict with the First Amendment, and persuading voters to repeal them through ballot referenda.”[vii]

 

It did not take long, after the Zelman decision, for a court in Florida to declare the state's existing voucher program unconstitutional.[viii] Though technically statewide, it was operational only in Pensacola and involved only approximately 50 students. It was found to be in violation of Article I, Section 3, of the Florida Constitution. It states that, "No revenue of the state or any political subdivision or agency thereof shall ever be taken from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect or religious denomination, or in aid of any sectarian institution." It is only a matter of time before this case, or a similar one from another state, is tested before the United States Supreme Court.

 

Read more on this issue in John Suarez’s chapter “The Purgation of the First Amendment” in The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America.

 

Politically Incorrect

 

“All things equal, I would prefer to have a child in a school that has a strong appreciation for the values of the Christian community, where a child is taught to have a strong faith


--Rod
Paige , U.S. Secretary of Public Education, said this to a reporter and was quoted in April 2003 in the Baptist Press.

 

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Fundamentally Aware

Published by

Kimberly Blaker

 

Editor/coauthor

The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America

 

 

E-mail:

KimberlyBlaker@

chartermi.net

 

 

 

 

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Who are the Voucher Visionaries? A look inside America ’s parochial schools

 

In May, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU) filed suit over a recently approved Denver County voucher program in violation of Colorado ’s constitution, the first voucher program to pass since the Supreme Court ruling one-year ago that vouchers are constitutional. 

 

Despite the flawed decision of the conservative high court, most Americans consistently oppose school voucher programs, not because we don’t want to improve educational opportunities for all children, but because of ample arguments against them; the ultimate destruction posed by vouchers hardly warrants their implementation.  But regardless of their devastating effects, it doesn’t prevent those who would erode the Separation Clause of the First Amendment and undermine the education of public school children from repeated attempts at legislating such programs.

 

Of particular concern is a reintroduced federally funded voucher proposal for Washington D.C. that would cover students’ tuition up to $11,000 each. Similar legislation for Washington was approved during the Clinton years, but vetoed by the President during his term.  With President Bush now in office, the threat of conservatives realizing this vision is real, thus, the need for mainstream Americans to voice their concerns, crucial.

 

It’s common knowledge that the majority of private schools in the U.S. are parochial.  What isn’t readily recognized is that, amazingly enough, a substantial number of religious schools doesn’t exist to meet children’s academic needs.  In stark contrast, a growing proportion has developed to protect children from learning.  Fundamentalists are particularly threatened by history and science that’s in conflict with their beliefs.  Equally alarming to them is public education’s new emphasis on the development of critical thinking skills.

 

Unlike the reasons many of us support school of choice, such as for varied learning environments, few religious schools operate with such needs in mind.  Many have fewer offerings than public schools for learning disabled or gifted students.  And unlike private secular schools established to offer alternative approaches to learning, many conservative religious schools go the opposite extreme, requiring even more rote learning than public schools.


For Christian fundamentalist schools, religious indoctrination is typically the primary purpose; education is secondary.  A substantial part of each day is devoted to recitation and memorization of scriptures and prayers, teaching children how to proselytize, and preparing them for a future of evangelizing.

 

Likewise, the parents of these children (those enrolling their children in fundamentalist Christian schools), are generally well-aware of the nature of the religious teachings and often send their children solely for such purposes.

 

In 1947, the Supreme Court ruled in Everson v. Board of Education that, “Neither [the Federal Government or the state] can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. . . .  No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. . . .”

 

There’s no question that a substantial number of vouchers would fall squarely into those areas that this Supreme Court ruling prohibits.

 

The fact that private and parochial schools are not obligated to meet the same criteria as public schools for assuring a full and satisfactory education and to assure children’s physical and emotional well-being is an even greater blow to the idea of siphoning tax dollars from public institutions. 

 

Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way.  In recent years, fundamentalists have found ways around the voucher system.  Although many charter schools have originated for valid reasons, many more have been underhandedly formed by Christian conservatives to institute their religious teachings through government subsidies.

 

I recognize that not all parents who support vouchers do so for religious purposes.  Many are truly seeking better opportunities for their children, especially those in poor districts where private schools do sometimes outperform the public.  School choice and better educational opportunities is a serious issue that needs addressing. But vouchers only partially band-aid the problem at the expense of other students while violating our Constitution in doing so.  Because many proponents of vouchers are minorities, the long-term effects could be monumental even to those most in need of vouchers, as an uncompromised Constitution and Bill of Rights is what protects their civil rights. 

 

 

Kimberly Blaker is editor and coauthor of The Fundamentals of Extremism: the Christian Right in America . Visit http://www.NewBostonBooks.com for details.  Read previously published columns of The Wall™ at http://www.thewall-onchurchandstate/com © 2003, Kimberly Blaker

 

 

Conservative Christian Views on Education

 

While a vast number of America ’s public schools are horribly underfunded, see what James Dobson has to say increased funding of  public education:

 

http://www.family.org/welcome/press/a0015995.cfm

 

What’s Dr. Edward Hindson’s take on the pluralism that’s forced on America ’s school children?

 

http://www.nljonline.com/jan02/hindson.htm

 

 

Read the Christian Educators Association International’s “Declaration for Public Education.”

 

http://www.ceai.org/declaration.html

 




[i] “Should You Pay Taxes to Support Religious Schools?,” Faith and Freedom Series, Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

[ii] Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 122 S. Ct. 2460 (2002).

[iii] Rob Boston, "Supreme Mistake," Church & State, July/August, 2002, 4.

[iv] Rob Boston, "Voucher Victory," Church & State, September, 2002, 7.

[v] Committee for Public Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756   (1973).

[vi] Sloan v. Lemon, 413 U.S. 825 (1973).

[vii] Rob Boston, "The Blaine Game," Church & State, September, 2002, 4.

[viii] Bush v. Holmes, 767 So. 2nd 668 (Fla. App. 2000), review denied, 790 So. 2nd 1104 (2001), opinion on remand (Fla. Cir. Ct., Aug. 5, 2002 ).


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