Suppose someone proposed a law requiring every child in America to report to a government facility to receive Christian indoctrination. How many Americans would support such a law?
Actually, most Americans would. According an article in Lifestyle, 57 percent of Americans favor prayer in public schools. 54 percent of Americans believe that there isn’t enough religion in public schools. A whopping 76 percent of American adults believe that Christmas should be celebrated in public schools; that figure rises to 82 percent among parents with children.
Under public schooling, children are mandated by the state to receive a government-approved education. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, state governments provided only two options to parents: send your children into a state institution or a state-approved private school for education. Later, home-schooling was permitted as a third option, but even then most homeschooling must be approved by the state.
Most parents choose the public-schooling option, either because of the high cost of private schools or because they don’t have the inclination to home school their children.
The operative feature in public schooling is “force.” Every child attending public school is forced to be there by the law. If he fails to appear and also fails to submit to a state-approved education, his parents are summoned into court and fined until they and the child submit. If they continue to refuse, the state will arrest them and incarcerate them or, in a last-ditch measure, will kill them for “resisting arrest,” as they did to John Singer in Utah many years ago.
Thus, the problem with prayer in public schools is the fact that the law is mandating parents to subject their children to religious education or, one might say, indoctrination.
The U.S. Constitution set up a federal government of limited, enumerated powers. That’s because our American ancestors didn’t trust the federal government with general powers to “do the right thing” for the people. Unlike Americans today, our ancestors wanted a very weak federal government, one with very few powers over the citizenry.
That’s how they ended up with a society without income taxation, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, farm subsidies, immigration controls, Federal Reserve System, paper (fiat) money, drug laws, Pentagon, CIA, NSA, military industrial complex, national-security state, and much more.
Our American ancestors were convinced that the type of people who would be attracted to serve in the federal government would inevitably enact laws that would destroy their freedom, especially in a quest to keep them safe and secure. That’s why they demanded, as a condition for approving the new federal government, a bill of rights, which would expressly prohibit the government from infringing their rights and liberties.
But there is something important to note here: The Bill of Rights operates as a set of express restrictions on the federal government, not the state governments.
Thus the First Amendment prohibits Congress from infringing on religious liberty. Why did our ancestors believe such an amendment was necessary? Because they were convinced that in the absence of such an express prohibition, federal officials would enact laws that forced Americans to submit to some sort of religious indoctrination at the hands of the government.
Under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, however, the states were authorized to enact any laws they wanted, unless expressly prohibited by the Constitution. For example, the states are expressly prohibited from making anything but gold and silver coins legal tender. But if there isn’t an express restriction on state power in the Constitution, the states are authorized to enact the law. (Of course, states had their own constitutions that operated on their respective state governments.)
Thus, under the original Constitution the states were authorized to enact laws mandating that parents send their children into state institutions for religious indoctrination. That would mean that today, given the public’s support of prayer in public schools, there would undoubtedly be widespread mandatory religious indoctrination of American children by state governments.
Enter the Fourteenth Amendment, which operates as a restriction on the powers of the states to infringe the rights and liberties of the people within those states. Under rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Fourteenth Amendment incorporated the principles of the First Amendment (which apply to the federal government) and apply them to the states.
Is their a solution to the prayer in public schools conundrum, one that would enable parents who want their children to receive an education that encompasses religious values as well?
Yes, there is! And, no, I’m not referring to the fact that parents can send their children to state-approved private Christian schools.
I’m referring to the idea of separating school and state, just as our ancestors separated church and state. So, just as the First and Fourteenth Amendments prohibit federal and state officials from mandating that children receive religious indoctrination, so it would be with respect to education as well. No more compulsory-attendance laws. No more public school buildings. No more public schoolteachers. No more state-approved education. No more state involvement in education.
In other words, a total free market in education, one in which the state plays no role whatsoever. Not only would the separation of school and state recognize that the right of educational liberty is as valuable as the right of religious liberty, it would also produce the greatest educational system possible, given the fact that the free market always produces the best of everything.
The problem is that all too many Americans cannot think outside the box, especially given the deference-to-authority mindset that was inculcated in them in public schools. Thus, they remain mired in a conflict-ridden paradigm that involves the impossible task of how to mesh mandatory education with the religious values that they would like to expose their children to. Lacking the critical thinking that was smashed out of them in the state’s educational system, they find it difficult to raise their vision to a higher level—to the level of educational liberty—the level our ancestors were able to think at with respect to religious liberty.
The Future of Freedom Foundation.
This article was published by The Future of Freedom Foundation.