In 1785, the commonwealth of Virginia considered a bill that would fund “teachers of the Christian Religion.” James Madison, who as one of our founding fathers was a key architect of our Constitution, wrote that “it is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes acceptable to him.”
Put another way: funding, participating in and sending our children to religious education programs is the right and responsibility of faith communities, clergy and parents as they see fit. It’s not our government’s purview.
Every American has the right to choose or choose not to fund or participate in religious education.
Recently, the organization over which I preside joined an amicus brief asserting the same basic argument that Madison did more than 225 years ago.
The brief, submitted on behalf of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, the ACLU, the ACLU of Louisiana and Interfaith Alliance, challenges Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program on the grounds that the program violates religious freedom. It argues that the scheme will redirect taxpayer dollars intended for public schools to private schools who will use the funds to provide a religion-based education.
Governor Jindal’s program, as I’ve written before, is bad for religious freedom and bad for public education.
Under the program, tax dollars will fund private schools and curricula infused with theology at every level and across subject matters. Although not all private schools teach from a religious curriculum, nearly every private school available to Louisiana students is a religious school.
For example, Louisianans’ tax dollars will fund private schools that will teach our children from textbooks that assert evolution does not exist, and support their claim with “real” evidence of the fabled Loch Ness Monster. Since the science of evolution teaches that dinosaurs and man did not inhabit the earth simultaneously, the existence of “Nessie,” clearly a dinosaur, “debunks” evolution:
“Many evolutionists theorize that fish evolved into amphibians and amphibians into reptiles. This gradual change from fish to reptiles has no scientific basis …God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.
As a pastor and resident of Louisiana, this issue is not merely philosophical - it’s personal.
Let me be clear: I am not bothered or appalled by a Christian school teaching its students that God created the Earth. Indeed, children in my church learn that every Sunday.
What appalls me is that schools are teaching theology as science; and they’re doing so with government money - with my tax dollars.
With my life’s work, I have defended the right of religious schools and institutions to teach future generations about their faith - including the theology of Creationism. However, they should not receive financial support from the government to do so.
What is often lost in this debate is the harm school vouchers cause to religion. School vouchers create competition between religious groups for government funds, putting the government in a position to implicitly express preference of one religion over another - a fundamental problem with any voucher program.
Louisiana State Representative Valarie Hodges’ reasons for changing her position from one of support to one of opposition to the program is a perfect example of this inherent problem with vouchers.
I’ve written before that I wish I could have celebrated her change of heart, but rather than recognizing how harmful this program is to religious freedom, she changed her position because she realized that Muslim groups would be eligible for funding alongside Christian organizations.
In short, Louisiana’s program represents everything that is wrong with school vouchers and threatens the integrity of both religion and government.
That is why Interfaith Alliance joined the amicus brief, and why as a Baptist pastor in Louisiana I have been an outspoken opponent of the program.
Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy is president of Interfaith Alliance, and serves as Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, Louisiana.