National Catholic Register

Opinion

Public Education Cruelty

EDITORIAL

BY Jim Cosgrove

March 3-9, 2002 Issue | Posted 3/3/02 at 2:00 PM

 

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments about vouchers in February, and will announce its decision in June. But court watchers say they already know what decision the high court will make.

Based on the nine justices' previous decisions, the court likely will give the green light to Cleveland's government-aid for private-tuition system.

We hope they will.

Secular arguments against vouchers aren't very persuasive. Groups like Americans United for the Separation of Church and State say that any government money going to religious secondary schools constitutes an establishment of a religion and violates the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

But to argue this way, they have to ignore or explain away the government money that commonly goes to tuition-assistance programs at religious universities. They have to ignore or explain away the money going indirectly to religious secondary schools already. And they have to ignore or explain away nearly two decades of schooling in America, when the King James Bible was the “world history” textbook, the church hymnal was music class, every class began with prayer — and no court cried foul.

In fact, the first laws barring public money from religious schools, the turn-of-the-last-century Blaine amendments, weren't meant to stop God from being mentioned on the public dime, like the secularists want. They were, originally, the product of the Know-Nothing Party, which sought to keep public money from going to Catholic schools instead of the Protestant public schools.

Besides, in voucher systems, the state gives money to families, not to schools. The families then use it wherever they like. They can use the money in nonreligious schools, Catholic schools, Muslim schools, Jewish schools. That's hardly the establishment of a religion.

Students have no such choice in public schools. There, they must suffer an education that considers “separation of church and state” to mean the unbridled promotion of official atheism.

The more persuasive arguments against vouchers are the ones made not by its secular opponents — but by Catholics who might otherwise be their beneficiaries.

Many Catholics argue that state money taints whatever it touches, and that no dollars ever come from state coffers without strings attached.

Just as religion was stripped from public schools, they argue, it will be stripped from Catholic schools that take the money.

But one wonders which came first: the chicken of secularized Catholic school administrators or the egg of government money.

Catholic and other private schools still produce much better educated and better disciplined students. They still retain a respect for religion that is much tougher to find in public schools. But, sadly, secularization has taken a toll on Catholic secondary schools.

Today's Catholic schools are less likely to be forming Catholic consciences animated by the doctrines of the Church, souls unstoppably committed to Christ, or even a preponderance of students who intend to live their lives within the sacramental system of the Church.

It didn't take government money to secularize Catholic schools. And just as a university like Brigham Young sticks to its guns despite government money, a school that takes its Catholic mission as its organizing principle will be resilient to secularization. Having 20 students paying part of their tuition with an open-ended coupon from the state house shouldn't make a Catholic school administrator abandon his mission. If it does, then the problem is too deep to be solved by changing the students' payment plan.

Meanwhile, the need for vouchers is enormous among the poorest children in our inner cities. They face bleak prospects. Their classes are often high-stress exercises in disciplining society's roughest characters at their most undisciplinedages. Students are likely to be influenced by peers who value a thousand things above education. It is cruel of the public education establishment to want to force poor students to stay in these low-performance, dead-end schools.

Having no vouchers will hurt those students far more than vouchers will hurt Catholic schools. It's a matter of service to the poor — the Holy Father's special emphasis this Lent.

And if Catholics still have jitters about the effect of vouchers on Catholic identity, they need only listen to Americans United for Church and State. They don't fear vouchers will make religious schools more secular. They fear it will the state more religious.