The Wall

I’m not talking here about the wall across the US-Mexican border. What I will talk about is the barrier that has long existed in the US regarding the use of public funds for private schools. My inclination is to argue that the maintenance of this funding wall is essential for education’s future reform. I hold no brief for religion in any of its forms with just a little exception for some practices of Buddhism. The metaphysical and pre-scientific foundations for religious beliefs are too far from my views and values to respected. The slight exception for Buddhism is a few Buddhist practices that eschew evangelism, which I believe should be proscribed as a social practice. Indoctrinating children with religious dogma is, to my mind, morally reprehensible. Too much of that happens outside the public arena. We certainly don’t need to extend indoctrination with public funding.

Some, of course, argue that such indoctrination is essential for a moral life. I just don’t agree. The foundations for our human morality are, and remain, mysterious; but that does not mean that we should continue to accept that there is no basis for morality outside of religion. There are ample biological and sociological reasons why morality has enabled our species to survive. Our bio-social evolution may well be continuing to infuse our minds with the moral instincts needed to survival. Social institutions can continue to support these instincts. Religious institutions and their schools are not needed to assure moral behavior. .

Molding and remolding minds is what the social institution of education is about and parochial, private education is what it is in order to mold young minds to believe in religious traditions and practices. Those practices do indeed carry moral messages. But society could do well and better with messages from other sources. Religion inevitably imposes a hierarchical authoritarian framework that extends across generations and establishes communities that are isolated by mental models that can, and I believe too often do, preclude the communications, emphatically including questions, essential for democracy.

Our US Constitution’s First Amendment states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The initial words of the First Amendment are frequently called the establishment clause. That part is clear. Our problem comes from the following free exercise clause. That is, of course, extended with the free speech language that follows and opens doors that find the hallways and rooms for societal trouble and isolation of thought that is inimical to democracy; spreading the unquestioned assertions of religion. Without those questions, truth is almost surely partial or completely absent. Establishment has been extended by judicial precedent to include parochial schools and essentially all of the services and operations of these schools. Free exercise seems damned by both “free” and “exercise” by conflating free speech and free public education with any and every practice. The black letters of the Constitution and the subsequent rulings of the Supreme Count have created a wall to prevent the transfer of public funds to religious institutions for almost any reason or use.

Unfortunately there is a body of thought that seems to insist that all education should be supported by public funds and that position on public funding fosters, from the religious community, a constant attempt to tear down this wall. This is one wall that should be guarded and strengthened. The First Amendment can then stand firm as a pillar of our democracy.