Do you want your tax dollars to fund religious education? You shouldn’t.
By Rachel Laser
The Washington Post
Jan. 21, 2020
Rachel Laser is president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
Imagine a country where your hard-earned tax dollars must fund private religious schools that require students to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or that expel students for being gay. Imagine that your state is forced to spend resources to help fund construction of a local house of worship of a faith you do not share, just because the state is also contributing to building a community center.
These scenarios are antithetical to the principles of religious freedom on which our nation was founded. And yet, this is the path we may be headed down as the U.S. Supreme Court gears up to hear oral arguments Wednesday in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue.
The case arises out of a challenge to a Montana private-school voucher program. Because the Montana Constitution — like three-quarters of the states’ constitutions — specifically prohibits state dollars from funding religious education, the state limited its voucher program to secular schools. But some parents argued that if Montana funds private education at all, it must fund religious education. The Montana Supreme Court struck down the entire voucher program, resulting in all private schools being treated the same way: None of them get taxpayer dollars.
Now, however, the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide whether Montana’s earlier decision to fund some secular schools means that it must also fund religious schools — schools that teach religion, compel students to engage in religious activities and enforce religious codes of conduct. This case is not about what a state may do, but about what it must do. To hold that the U.S. Constitution requires taxpayers to fund religious education in this fashion would upset long-standing principles of religious freedom and separation of religion and government.
No taxpayer should be forced to fund religious education. This bedrock principle alone should convince you — and the court — to leave Montana’s constitution undisturbed. But if that’s not enough, consider the fact that a ruling in favor of the voucher program would also compel taxpayers to fund discrimination, religious and otherwise.
Private religious schools don’t adhere to the same nondiscrimination laws that public schools do. As a result, we have seen them turn students away because their families don’t share the school’s religious beliefs. They have barred admission because a student or parent is LGBTQ or a student has a disability. They have expelled students who engage in sex outside marriage. And some have fired teachers for being pregnant and unmarried, for undergoing in vitro fertilization or for advocating for the right to terminate a pregnancy. While not all private religious schools conduct themselves in this way, too many do, and taxpayers should not have to underwrite such discrimination.
Consider also that whatever the Supreme Court decides in the school-voucher arena may well reverberate in other contexts, opening the door to countless new avenues of taxpayer funding of both religion and discrimination. For example, would the government then be forced to fund Sunday school classes at a house of worship if it is funding a museum’s youth education program? If taxpayer dollars are paying for secular social service programs such as substance-abuse counseling or job-training programs, would they now have to pay for similar programs that require Jewish participants to practice Christianity?
Some claim that not funding private religious education when private secular education is funded amounts to religious discrimination. They have it backward. Prohibiting government funding of religion protects religious freedom. Religious institutions that accept government money open themselves up to government interference, risk internal divisions and jeopardize their ability to be self-supporting in the future. A diverse array of religions have been able to thrive in America because of — not despite — the separation of religion and government.
Those challenging the Montana Constitution are not seeking a level playing field. Instead, they are asking the state to fund their religious schools and continue to extend to them exemptions from laws that apply to public and even secular private schools. That is not equal treatment — it’s religious privilege.
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Spread the word. If not you, then maybe someone you know.
I would like to take this opportunity to personally invite you to the Leaders for Just Schools training that is being provided by GFEA. This training will be a continuum over a period of time that will help each of us recognize biases, equity in the classroom, and how to create socially just environments in our schools.
Arienne and I were honored by MFPE President Eric Feaver to receive the training from NEA. We would love to pass it on to as many GFPS/GFEA members as possible.
Please see the attached flier. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact Arienne or me. To sign up for the training, just call Bob Griffith, GFEA President at 727-4233 or shoot him an e-mail at email@example.com.
Thank you for your consideration of this important work.
Morningside Elementary School
Special Education Teacher
Candidate for Governor Casey Schreiner stopped by October's GFEA FR meeting. Click on the Action Tab to see more.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 1, 2019
Organization Formed to Defend the Interests of Montana Students and Public Schools
(MONTANA) - Today Representative Moffie Funk announced the formation of Montanans Organized for Education (MOFE) Action Fund. The organization’s primary purpose is to defend the interests of Montana students and the Montana Constitution by opposing school privatization in Big Sky Country.
Specifically, MOFE is dedicated to
“Montana’s commitment to public education has always been strong. Unfortunately, special interests from both inside and outside Montana are pouring cash into our state in an attempt to privatize our schools. Why? Because they see our kids and our schools as commodities that should be sold off to the highest bidder,” said Representative Moffie Funk, Executive Director of MOFE. “It’s our intention to draw a line in the sand on this issue before Montana becomes like so many other states whose public schools have been scrapped and sold for parts.”
In recent years, Montana has seen a surge in lobbying pressure from special interest groups touting so-called “school choice,” a term which masks a reckless agenda aimed at diverting public dollars to for-profit schools and institutions.
In addition to Representative Moffie Funk, the MOFE’s Board of Directors includes
Jack Copps, Retired Educator and Superintendent
Lisa Cordingley, Helena Education Foundation Executive Director
Amanda Curtis, Educator and former State Representative
John Heenan, Attorney
Jesse Laslovich, Attorney
Jill Laslovich, Attorney
Clara McRae, Student
Dennis Parman, Montana Rural Education Association Executive Director
Amanda Penley, Student
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