In North Carolina, 62 fundamentalist Christian schools refused last year of file a report required before the state board of education will officially approve a school, knowlingly provoking an impending legal battle with the state.
In Kentucky, a group of fundamentalist preachers, teachers and students is asking for a court ruling to exempt them from state licensing and certification requirements such as employing only certified teachers and using textbooks approved by the board of education.
In Texas, the Rev. Lester Roloff says he will face "death or jail" rather than submit to welfare department licensing of his six "Christian homes" for delinquent youths. He is appealing to the Supreme Court to hear his case.
In these and dozens of other legal and administrative battles across the country, fundamentalists are challenging what they view as an untenable encroachment by government bureaucracy on their religious freedom, provoking a debate between church and state.
The basic issue in most of the cases is the government's right to regulate. The fundamentalists say that, aside from basic health and fire code regulations, their schools and day-care centers can be licensed only by God. They view the schools as extensions of their "ministry" and regulating them is, in effect, regulating the church. State officials, on the other hand, say they have an obligation and a right to protect children and assure their opportunity for an education allowing them to compete in society.
"Historically, we've sat by while things we originally agreed with were taken over," said the Rev. John C. Macon, head of the Clinton Christian School in Prince George's County, Md., and of the Eastern Association of Christian Schools, which has a mailing list of 7,000. "For example, when the public school system was founded in the 1850s, it had a strong emphasis on morals. Gradually it was torn down and replaced with John Dewey and secular humanism, and we built our own schools. This legal fight is a way of saying 'we're not abandoning this one; those who have strong religious feelings will not compromise. We will not keep abandoning the ship to the cancerous liberal element that wants to contaminate everything.'"
The fundamentalists see alink between their cause and what has been labeled the "taxpayers' revolt" seen in the recent adoption of Proposition 13 in California, although that was a property tax-cutting measure, not a church-state issue. The connection, they say, is a common opposition to burgeoning bureaucracy.
The resistance has spawned at least two national defense funds, the Christian Law Association in Ohio and the Christian Legal Defense Fund in Texas, several newsletters, a fund-raising motion picture, rallies (at least 5,000 people showed up last April in Raleigh, N.C., at the preliminary hearing in the case there), pamphlets and books.
Macon said he raised $1,000 for the defense fund one Sunday morning (the same amount he charges for one year's tution in junior high). Roloff has sent "half a million dollars of the Lord's money" in his five-year battle. Where does the money come from? "The Lord will provide . . ."
(A leading attorney for the fundamentalists is William B. Ball, who won the landmark Yoder case before the Supreme Court in 1972, in which the right of members of the Amish sect in Minnesota not to send their children to high school was upheld.)
Meanwhile, state government and education officials are worried that exempting the fundamentalist schools and day-care centers from educational standards and licensing requirements might permit anyone to set up a school in a basement or living room, obtain a tax exemption and claim to educate children.
The schools also have been charged with being "white-flight" devices established after the advant of school busing.
"Busing certainly had an influence," said the Rev. Daniel Carr, head of the South Park Baptist School in Winston-Salem, N.C., and of the Organization of Christian Schools there. "But it was not the primary motivation. We do have blacks in our schools."
Enrollment figures are not available ("We're not the type to keep much statistics," said Carr), but few, if any, blacks have been seen at the rallies or court hearings, according to sources. But the question of race is not the dominant issue.
"The issue is whether the state has an obligation to see that the children have an opportunity to obtain the education to which they are entitled," said attorney Bert Combs, a former governor of Kentucky who is representing the state school board. "The question is, does the state have any authority to impose any basic standards and regulations?
". . . If they employ unqualified teachers, and if they teach innocuous or unimportant subjects indequate to a proper education, then the children will be unable to compete. If the court rules for them, it would set the precedent that anyone could come to Kentucky and set up a school and teach the Bible and nothing else, and charge as much as you want," he said.
Roloff, who founded his first home for troubled youths 33 years ago, said his problems began a few years ago when the Texas welfare department got the power to license youth homes. Roloff refused to comply, believing it "takes a greater to license a lesser."
He was jailed briefly in 1974 and is now free on $25,000 bond and liable for fines up to $23,500. Having lost in the state courts, he is appealing to the Supreme Court, which has not decided whether to review the case.
Roloff's eight homes (he has one in Georgia and one in Mississippi) house about 550 young people. The largest is a home for girls on a 465-acre campus in Corpus Christi. The homes are supported entirely by donations, he said, adding, "We don't take any tax money.
"We never take a good boy or a good girl. We take the boys and girls nobody else wants. Dope addicts, theives, killers - I get 20 to 50 calls every 24 hours asking me to take someone in. Most of the calls are from parents. We raise our own beef, we have our own dairy, raise our vegetables . . . The girls wear dresses and the boys have short hair.
"There's no TV, no rock and roll, and no tobacco. We believe in Bible discipline; the welfare department does not. In other words, we command, the respect of the children and make them mind us."