Public School Bureaucrats Want to Choose Your Child’s Religion
The Supreme Court ruled on June 21 that state education budgets can’t discriminate against Christian schools — but the most significant aspect of the case came more than six months earlier. In a revealing exchange during the oral arguments of Carson v. Makin last December 8, an attorney for the state of Maine essentially confessed that the government wants to discriminate based on religion, because politicians have “values they want to instill” in public schoolchildren. Multiple Supreme Court justices then explained precisely how they wish to discriminate against traditional Christian and religious believers.
The state of Maine maintains public high schools in fewer than half of its school districts. Instead, Maine’s Town Tuitioning Program allows parents in rural districts without a public school to send their children to a neighboring public school district or to a private school of their choice. But the state began excluding “sectarian” (read: religious) schools from the program in 1981. As we shall see, the state seemed most interested in excluding religious schools, because it wishes to teach religious principles of its own.
Carson v. Makin
Chief Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub, who represented Maine at the Supreme Court, defended the religious exclusion on the grounds that “Maine has determined that, as a matter of public policy, public education should be religiously neutral.” But the court’s conservatives immediately ripped through his façade.
Justice Samuel Alito asked Taub if there were a church that didn’t “really have any dogma,” but its “salient religious beliefs are that all people are created equal and that nobody should be subjected to any form of invidious discrimination … and that everybody has an obligation to make contributions to the community and engage in charitable work.” Taub replied, “That would be very close to a public school. Public schools often have a set of values that they want to instill: public service, be kind to others, be generous.”
“You really are discriminating on the basis of religious belief,” replied Alito, who said he had outlined the basic beliefs of the Unitarian Universalists. What Taub really wants, Alito exposed, is to choose which religious beliefs that state will allow schools to inculcate in children: “That religious community … can have a school that inculcates students with their beliefs, because those are okay religious beliefs, but other religious beliefs, no.”
“Unless you can say that you would treat a Unitarian school the same as a Christian school, or an Orthodox Jewish school, or a Catholic school, then I think you’ve got a problem of discrimination among religious groups,” Alito concluded.
Justice Neil Gorsuch agreed during arguments that the law would “discriminate against minority religious viewpoints” and “favor religions that are more watered down,” churches that teach “what a bureaucrat in Bangor might say.”
We should begin by listening to what one bureaucrat in Bangor did say: “Public schools often have a set of values that they want to instill,” said Taub. Public school officials see teaching “values” — their values — as part of their mandate for your child.
Some of the justices exposed which beliefs they want taught, and which they want excluded. Retiring Justice Stephen Breyer groused that Bangor Christian Schools and Temple Academy “have admissions policies that allow them to deny enrollment to students based on gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion, and both schools require their teachers to be born-again Christians.” That is, Christian schools require their teachers to believe the faith and do not allow students to rebel against it openly.
“Legislators did not want Maine taxpayers to pay for these religiously based practices — practices not universally endorsed by all citizens of the [s]tate — for fear that doing so would cause a significant number of Maine citizens discomfort or displeasure.” He then cited a Maine senator who opposed funding religious schools, because “public funds could be used to teach intolerant religious views.” Likewise in her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor called it “irrational” and “perverse” for the Supreme Court to “protect against discrimination of one kind” while requiring Maine “to fund what many of its citizens believe to be discrimination of other kinds.”
In other words: You’re intolerant; that’s why we’re excluding you. But if the government is giving out a benefit to everyone except Christians — while forcing Christians to pay for it with their taxes — who’s discriminating against whom?
The ‘Religious’ Ideology of Public Schools
Of course, the existence of parochial schools proves that public schools teaching extreme theories of gender identity are “not universally endorsed by all citizens of the state,” nor anything approaching a majority. A recent Pew Research Center poll found that 60% of Americans believe “a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, up from 56% in 2021 and 54% in 2017.” Another poll found that 57% of Americans agree with a Florida law signed by Governor Ron DeSantis (R) to prevent teachers from encouraging discussions of sexual orientation or gender identity before the fourth grade. And 62% of Americans believe the Biden administration has “gone too far” in its advocacy of opening female locker rooms to members of the opposite sex.
Presumably forcing those parents to have their children subjected to radical minority viewpoints brought them “discomfort or displeasure.” But the key point is Justice Breyer and this state senator wish to deny Christian parents access to universal government programs, because they disagree with our religious views. And social liberals do not consider this discrimination: They consider it anti-discrimination.
The other side sees the public school system as one front in a culture-wide, zero-sum game where one side’s values must prevail by vanquishing those of their opponents. For instance, a Maine elementary school read a transgender propaganda book, titled “I Am Jazz,” to students without parental notification in 2015. Future teachers are encouraged to instruct toddlers as young as three in transgender ideology, and Jeff Bezos’s ex-wife gave $10 million to a group that shows teachers how to “infuse social justice into mathematics.” In all, 57% of teachers told Education Week late last year that they would gladly teach LGBTQ ideology in the classroom.
Public school figures are using your tax dollars to wage moral jihad, ordaining public school teachers as their missionaries, and impressing your children as their janissaries. An increasing number of teacher-radicals see themselves as activists who hold dear Saul Alinsky’s prescription in “Rules for Radicals”: “From the moment the organizer enters a community he lives, dreams, eats, breathes, sleeps only one thing and that is to build the mass power base of what he calls the army.” One could hear an echo in NEA President Becky Pringle, when she called on her delegates to “build our power” by enrolling everyone “in our righteous cause.”
The Failure to Educate
Of course, with all their emphasis on teaching religion and “values,” something’s got to give: that something is education. Overall reading proficiency scores had already fallen in 2019, before the pandemic, and have only continued their slide. SAT critical reading scores fell from an average of 530 in 1972 to 494 in 2016, the year before a “massive redesign” inflated scores. Ironically, the best-educated students receive the least education. The San Francisco Unified School District phased out advanced mathematics courses in 2015, and scores predictably declined. Now, California is proposing a similar measure statewide, although only one-third of students meets state math standards as it is. On the other coast, then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) announced last fall that the city would eliminate talented and gifted classes, as well.
Of course, public schools also fail failing students. Baltimore City Public Schools announced last year that it would not hold back tens of thousands of students who failed — although 65% of secondary students and half of all elementary students failed at least one class.
Presumably, the teachers have decided they enjoy teaching political radicalism more than reading and mathematics — or have cynically concluded that widespread ignorance improves their odds of success.
That has caused some to say subsidizing religious schools is only fair play. “Considering progressivism is a religion — complete with original sin, atonement, holy days, and a detailed eschatology — this just levels the playing fields between aggressive proselytization in public schools and others,” wrote Chris Gast of Michigan Right to Life.
Rediscovering the Purpose of Education
The open admission that teachers want to use our tax dollars for progressive proselytization inside public schools should cause parents to come to a few conclusions. First of all, elections matter. The Supreme Court’s composition would have been much different after four years and three appointments by President Hillary Clinton. The Trump administration signaled its support for religious liberty in 2019, when the Justice Department filed a brief favoring the Christian parents in this lawsuit. Indeed, elections matter at every level of government. Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) reversed his state’s position on Carson v. Makin.
Second, the state has forced parents to fund their children’s apostasy long enough. The Supreme Court struck down state-led prayer in public schools (Engel v. Vitale, 1962), state-led Bible reading (Abington School District v. Schempp, 1963), direct state funding of religious schools (Lemon v. Kurtzman, 1971), posting the Ten Commandments in public schools (Stone v. Graham, 1980), and state-sponsored prayer at public school graduations (Lee v. Weisman, 1992). Teachers unions carefully squeezed every drop of faith out of the public square before they began replacing it with their own revolutionary “values.” This would be an ideal time to get the federal government out of education altogether. Ronald Reagan won two landslide elections while campaigning to abolish the Department of Education. At that time education policy, like post-Roe abortion policy, would revert to the states.
Most importantly, Americans must rediscover the purpose of education, which certainly goes beyond promoting Common Core standards via a teach-to-the-test mentality. The Founding generation declared in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” They believed character development constituted two-thirds of public schools’ mission — a thought they may have drawn from the Bible, which tells parents: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). A Christian’s duty to “train up a child in the way he should go” becomes infinitely more difficult when the state requires his child to sit through nine months of liberal indoctrination.
The attorney’s admission should underscore the high stakes that hinge on parents’ schooling decisions: namely, their ability to teach their own children their religion and moral precepts, and progressive busybodies’ determination to indoctrinate other people’s children in theirs.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.