Public school teachers have seen it coming for many years. In my home state, Indiana, this is particularly true. There has been a veiled effort–often quite thinly veiled–to bring Christianity into public education.
The Hoosier state has been a focal point for controversial education reform for the past decade. Indiana is a leader in the volume of school choice vouchers issued, the vast majority of which are used to send students to religious schools. Vouchers have become an “end around” way for Christianity to get a foot in the door of public education. If you can’t force it into public schools–due to that pesky road block called the 1st Amendment–then allow public tax money to be funneled into private religious schools in the form of vouchers.
As Governor of Indiana, Mike Pence came to power in the wake of a historic election for the office of State Superintendent of Education in which a relatively unknown educator, named Glenda Ritz, rode a wave of teacher-led, grass roots support to pull off a stunning upset over the much better funded campaign of the incumbent, GOP insider, Tony Bennett. The campaign against Bennett was so successful that Glenda Ritz actually garnered more votes in her win for superintendent than Mike Pence received in his win in the governor’s race. It was an astounding example of democracy in action–until Governor Pence thumbed his nose at the will of the people and immediately set about stripping Glenda Ritz’s office of much of its power. Pence–the self-proclaimed champion of small government–created a second state education board and gave it much of the power instead of the traditional board overseen by Glenda Ritz. I wrote much more about this despicable series of events in an article last year called, Why Mike Pence Terrifies Me.
With the Trump administration now in power, the agenda to push Christianity into public education is basically out in the open. There seems to be little effort to conceal it any longer. One of President Trump’s most puzzling cabinet appointments was that of Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos–the billonaire. Mrs. Devos’ only apparent qualification for that post was that she donated a boat load of money to many of the campaigns of Republicans running for Congress–perhaps as much as $200 million. Mrs. DeVos is a rabid supporter of increasing school choice vouchers. When she testified recently before Congress, DeVos was grilled about whether she supported tax-funded voucher money being given to religious schools that have discriminatory admissions policies. Time and again, Mrs. DeVos said that such decisions were up to the states–she consistently and steadfastly refused to denounce such scenarios, leaving the door open to state supported segregation. I wrote much about this disturbing situation here.
The latest blatant move came in the form of an announcement that the evangelical leader, Jerry Falwell Jr., has been tabbed by President Trump to head an education task force with the ultimate aim of reducing government restrictions on education. One shudders at the thought that among those restrictions might be that pesky bit about the separation of church and state found in the 1st Amendment. The jury is still out on where this development may lead, but I can’t imagine it going anywhere helpful.
How did it come to this?
It started with an aggressive campaign the religious right orchestrated upon the people. They got a large number of good, church-going folk to believe they were under attack and they did a marvelous job of it, indeed. They sold the narrative that America’s education system had been commandeered by atheists–that there were a pack of godless heathens indoctrinating America’s young minds from pre-K right through the hallowed halls of Harvard. They circulated viral memes about how God isn’t allowed in schools anymore–how it’s forbidden to pray, carry a Bible, or even say the Pledge of Alegiance. They even made a movie, called God’s Not Dead, about a college student standing up to his college professor who was openly persecuting him.
As a public school insider, I can tell you that much of the Christianity-under-attack narrative is complete rubbish. Prayer is allowed in public schools–it’s not school-led or sponsored, but no child is forbidden to pray or carry a Bible if they wish. In fact, at my public school (and many others of which I am aware) we start each day by standing and reciting the Pledge of Alegiance–including the “one nation, under God” line–followed by a moment of silence. Kids aren’t told to pray during that moment, but it is certainly an option. Many public schools even have regular opportunities for corporate prayer during scheduled times called See You at the Pole. By the way, teachers can and often do join students at these events–guess we aren’t all godless heathens. Tell me again, Religious Right, how God has been locked out of public schools. You won’t see any examples of what I just told you on Fox News or Breitbart because it doesn’t support their carefully crafted narrative.
Most of that narrative is simply fake news, but it has worked to perfection. It got a lot of Christians fighting mad and it helped put a billionaire reality tv show star in the White House. Now it has us on the brink of tearing down one of the crucial pillars of our society–the 1st Amendment.
I am a Christian. I don’t want public schools to sponsor any religion. Frankly, neither should any Christian. Our public schools are full of students from every imaginable walk of life–Protestant (from all the hundreds of strains), Catholic, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, Wiccan, you name it. All those families pay taxes to support those public schools. We already have schools–some of them really good schools–that do religion quite well. They are private schools and that’s their job. So long as no tax money is used to fund those schools, they should continue to do what they do.
But, Christians, do you really want the government plugging Christianity into our public schools? Think hard about it–aren’t a lot of Christians mighty particular about how the Word of God is presented? Isn’t that why we have so many different denominations and sub-denominations? And now you are going to trust Donald Trump to get religion right for your kids in school? Seriously?
For God’s sake, be careful what you wish for…