Government subsidy to church schools is unconstitutional. Most state constitutions forbid it, as does the First Amendment to the federal Constitution, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.…” The prohibiton is clear and it is absolute. “No law” means no law. The Constitution does not say that, of course, if it is a matter of “helping children,” church benefit laws may be passed. It does not say that the ban need not apply to certain features of the church, such as its educational programs. It does not say that there can be an exception if the purpose is to help the poor. It says plainly: “no law.” It means that Congress is not to get into the area of religion, that it is to undertake nothing that pertains to religion. As the Supreme Court has expressed the meaning of the no-establishment clause in the 1947 case of Everson v. Board of Education:

The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.… No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.

The Founding Fathers were well aware of the church-state problem and were determined that this ugly chapter of old-world history would not be reopened in the new. This was their purpose in drafting the First Amendment.

Now it is true that there are those who, for their own purposes, want to see this and other parts of the Constitution “interpreted away” by court decisions that would subvert their plain meaning. Can we really have respect for “law and order” when such thinking prevails? Let those who want government to finance (which is to establish) religion openly and honorably seek repeal of the First Amendment.

The current effort to charge the costs of sectarian education to the taxpayer is the first systematic attempt in over a century to impose the old-world pattern upon the new. It is a move that, if successful, would open in the United States a spate of sectarian rivalry and strife that our church-state arrangement has so far enabled us to avoid. It would plunge us immediately into our own American version of the Thirty Years’ War, deftly pitting group against group in a struggle for the tax dollar.

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A microcosmic example of the religious bloc technique was seen recently in Youngstown, Ohio, where Catholics organized to defeat public-school levies because they weren’t getting their “share.” They were successful in shutting down the entire public system until funds became available to reopen. In Cincinnati, a Catholic-action spokesman declared that unless the administration makes an “iron-clad agreement [for tax benefits to nonpublic schools] we’re not going to be supporting the [school] levy.” The subsidy to sectarian schools would invite, not less of this sort of thing, but far more, as each religious group would commit its bloc of votes to getting its “share” of the melon.

What we have here, initially, is a “Catholic drive” to get a subsidy from government for its indoctrination program. The effort to round up Protestants and Jews to get out front is rather pathetic. But when government money becomes available it is a vacuum into which the church invariably rushes. Once the gold begins to flow into sectarian institutions, many religious groups will plunge into the competition for tax dollars, cleaving our culture neatly asunder. A pattern of voting by predatory sectarian blocs is politically debilitating. Where will this leave the country?

While not all the 241 religious denominations in this country would go for sectarian schools, as many as twenty assuredly would. This means twenty overlapping, competitive school systems—plus no one knows how many other private operations—each battling for its “share” of the public funds and competing for students.

Whatever this might be, it would certainly not be efficient. This is not a good way to manage education. Politically and economically, this is the age of merger. The small, competitive operation is passé. Small companies merge to form vast combines because, from every standpoint, they are more economical and more efficient in operation. To plead solemnly that this entire trend should be reversed in regard to education and that we should revert to multiple, competitive schools is unrealistic.

Then there is the matter of money. There are just so many tax dollars for the support of education. Most of this money comes from the local tax base, which is eroding faster than it is expanding. Certainly no greatly expanded funds for schools are in sight. The public schools, which educate over half the Catholics and much higher percentages of other sectarian groups—indeed, the vast majority of American children of all faiths and none—need every single dollar they can get.

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The comments of Woodrow W. Zinser, superintendent of the Youngstown, Ohio, public schools, are enlightening. He said:

We kept going last year by depriving 2,000 youngsters of kindergarten, by depriving all students of extracurricular activities, by not having up-to-date textbooks.… Textbooks here are older than in any other system I’ve been in. The average book here is ten years out of date.… One science text … is so old that it predicts “Someday we will put a man in space!”

The Youngstown schools are typical of many of America’s public schools today. They are being short-changed. They deserve much more than they are getting. Now, to snatch from them a part of their present, inadequate support and divert it to church schools does not seem to make much sense. At a time of crisis like this, the basic needs should certainly be met first. There is no money for frills.

The proposed diversion of the public dollars to sectarian schools is so patently unfair to the general population as to be almost inhuman. It is a device for channeling more funds to the privileged suburbs and depriving the inner city. Many church schools are closing these days. Where are these closings taking place? Almost invariably in the inner city, where such operations do not pay. One of the popular proposals for aiding church schools is a per capita grant for each student. One can hardly conceive of a proposal more unfair or more socially undesirable than this. The funds would, of course, flow to the suburbs, where the all-white church schools congregate, while the inner city would be deprived of the little it has. For years the church schools have dumped their poor and their problem cases into the public schools as they sought to assemble a privileged and protected clientele. Of course they have a right to do this—but not at public expense.

But are not Catholics, and other sectarians who operate private schools, double-taxed? Are they not compelled to pay twice—once for the public schools they do not use and again for the sectarian schools they do use? No: they are single-taxed like everyone else. Many individuals and groups pay taxes for services they do not use. Bachelors pay for schools, though they have no children. Upright citizens pay for jails they never enter. The concept of “What’s in it for me?” obliterates the concept of the public good and makes organized society impossible. Indeed, the general public should not be double-taxed—once for the public schools and again for private, sectarian schools.

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The issue is, as much as anything else, that of how best to manage education. Proponents of the sectarianschool subsidy argue for a catch-as-catch-can method. Let the clergy and other volunteers, with whatever ideology they may have to impart, erect and staff schools as they will, these proponents say. And let them do this with public funds, the only requirement being that they can assemble a group of children and at least passably run the operation.

Proponents of the common schools argue that institutions are one of the great definitive bases of our democratic culture. Not a heterogeneous, catch-as-catch-can conglomerate, but common schools—one great system serving all children without religious discrimination, bringing together all groups of the populace for learning and play. Here is one great system, yet with each part of it indigenous to its own community, taking root, rise, and direction from the people there.

Can there be any doubt which is the better way to operate the schools?

Moreover, the cry for subsidy to church schools is a cry for subsidy to the church. Be careful not to miss that fact! The two are one and the same. It so happens that 90 per cent of the church schools are Roman Catholic. Because they form such a large, solid block, they serve as an excellent example. Of the Catholic schools these observations can be made: There are not two entities, a parish church and a parish school. There is one entity only—a parish; one treasury only—a parish treasury; one management only—that of the local priest, who is appointed and directed by his bishop and the Pope. The teaching burden is carried by professional religionists under vows of poverty and total commitment to teach the Roman Catholic religion in every course that is offered.

Sectarians pleading for public subsidy often try to put a different face on the thing. They try to present their school as a 90 per cent public institution with only a pinch of religion added. But this is simply not true—and, indeed, ought not to be true! Actually, the parish school exists for exactly the same purpose as the parish church, of which it is an integral part. Pope Pius XI in his 1929 encyclical, The Christian Education of Youth, said that the purpose of the school is to “permeate” the entire curriculum, including physical education, with Christian—i.e., Roman Catholic—doctrine. The Roman Catholic people are even officially bound by their Canon Law 1374 to send their children to a Catholic school unless the bishop excuses them for good reason, such as the unavailability of a Catholic school.

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True, this canon has been enforced only sporadically in the United States. But it has never been repealed, and it will not be repealed. It depicts the Catholic intention in education—every Catholic child in a Catholic school in order to insure his correct indoctrination.

To tax all the people for such a school is to tax them for the support of a church in its most significant ministry. This is the dreaded tax for religion. This is establishment of religion, by whatever name we may choose to call it.

On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI reasserted the ban of his church on the use of effective contraceptives for birth control. In his encyclical Humanae Vitae he also sought to persuade public officials to uphold this ban in public programs. When Cardinal Patrick O’Boyle of Washington, D. C., undertook to implement the encyclical in his diocese, he summoned 1,500 parochial-school teachers and directed them to teach this doctrine to students in their classes. If these denominational schools were to receive public subsidy, it is obvious that the taxpayers would be paying for this kind of teaching. Yet most church groups and non-church groups alike repudiate the ban on contraceptives as cruel and dangerous.

Those who coddle themselves with the thought that the church has changed or will change some of its obscurant views should ponder the statement of Pope Paul VI on December 4, 1968: “When it comes to its own teaching, the church is intransigent and dogmatic—at any cost.”

Some say that church schools save the public money. If so, the saving is hard to see. In every known instance where the policy of subsidizing such schools was begun, taxes have steadily risen as more and more tax funds were poured into their duplicating, competitive service. If there is any saving, the taxpayers are certainly not aware of it. In the long run it is much cheaper to operate one system serving the entire public than a number of systems with consequent overlapping.

Much has been said about the failure of the school. But what about the failure of the church that this demand for tax funds so eloquently depicts? In seeking the religious tax, the church acknowledges that it cannot evoke adequate voluntary response and must resort to the coercive power of the state. Having failed to win the voluntary allegiance of youth, the church seeks to accomplish its goal by use of compulsory-attendance laws and the coercive tax.

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In this uninhibited lunge for tax support the churches are overreaching themselves. They are a wealthy and powerful enterprise. Tax exemption not only on their places of worship and their institutions, but also on both their active and passive business income, has enabled the churches of the United States to amass resources estimated to exceed $160 billion. Churches are already receiving more than $6.5 billion annually in government (mostly federal) subsidies. Now they are proposing a program that would probably double this figure and, indeed, approximate the total of the sums now being received by the churches in voluntary gifts.

What does this mean? It means a shift from voluntary religion toward a state church. The financing of a thing ultimately determines its nature. A church financed by the state will become a state church. It will become a part of officialdom, a long step removed from the people. This tends to reduce religion to formal observances without any real hold on the popular affection.

Last year the church enterprise in the United States declined in all vital categories except one. Attendance? It was off. Membership? It declined. Sunday schools and youth work? Way down. Seminary enrollments? Also down. You name it; the record was poor. But the churches had more money than ever before.

The plain truth is that the churches are already too rich. Success in their current subsidy drive would put us well into a condition of “religious inflation”—i.e., an overdevelopment of church institutionalism. It would soon create such a vast and powerful dimension that corrective action would be necessary.

What happened to Germany in the sixteenth century, to England in the seventeenth, to France in the eighteenth, and to Mexico and Russia in the nineteenth may well happen to us in the twentieth or twenty-first. State subsidy to the church is the sure way to bring it about. These countries had to have their corrective action and, if matters proceed as at present, we shall have to have ours. To put it bluntly: this could come to expropriation of the church.

The churches today are on the wrong track in many vital respects. But no more so than when they seek tax subsidies for their support. The great danger is that their current subsidy drive will succeed, thus helping them bring doom upon themselves.

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Gordon Oosterman*

There is much in the American heritage that antidisestablishmentarians and I share. The concerns to “establish justice” and “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity” are echoed in the phrase “with liberty and justice for all.” Christians have a way of identifying these ideals with the ringing call of the prophets of the Old Testament as well as with New Testament exhortations. This is all to the good. Keeping a biblical perspective on such concepts should keep us all from a ranting parochialism or a raving anti-Catholic or anti-Baptist polemicism.

Virtually all of us will agree on abstractions such as liberty and justice; it is when concrete, specific meanings are put into these terms that interest rises and emotions sometimes register a fever.

The matter of tax dollars and the non-public school sector is a case in point. I leave constitutional lawyers and others so disposed to question and quibble over the technicalities of whether pupils or parents or institutions should be the recipients. Also for them is the question of the grade levels—kindergarten through college—on which aid should be given. It would seem natural, though, that concern be greatest for those levels subject to state compulsory-attendance laws. In most states this takes in ages six to sixteen, the elementary and secondary years of schooling.

The substance of the matter is whether our society wishes to have a monolithic system of education, akin to the established church of bygone centuries, or a pluralistic system, as we now have with our churches and press. Happily, our churches are not handicapped by the existence of a state church. Another fine feature of our present system is that Christian and non-Christian families experience the same tax practices in regard to their homes. But when it comes to schools, well, that is different. Everyone gets taxed, but only those whose children attend the public—that is, the state—schools may benefit from their own educational taxes. Like the Dissenters, Baptists, and Covenanters of a former time, taxpayers have the choice of identifying with the favored established institution or making the best of their lot. Churches and schools are not identical institutions, you may well say; but need evangelical Christians be reminded of the close association between preaching and teaching? And as promoters of values or non-values in our own day, which have the greater influence, the churches or the educational institutions?

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What I am suggesting is that the obviously inequitable system of the present be modified, within the bounds of state and federal constitutions, to do away with an established school system. I am not for abolishing the public school system; on the contrary, I wish to make it even better than it now is. And I have the same concern for every non-public school system.

It is not hard to anticipate the objections to such a proposal. Generally they will follow along these lines:

1. It would be unconstitutional. This is decided in only one domain: the courts. A badly written piece of legislation could and should be declared unconstitutional. A well-written law embodying the same intent could well be constitutional. If the courts are not competent to decide, surely the self-appointed proclaimers of what is or is not constitutional are even less qualified. The same Constitution that has prohibited a state church or press has never made provision for an established school system of the kind that ours has come to be. And even if it had done so, there are legitimate procedures for amending any constitution. Perhaps the current reconsideration of the archaic electoral-college system will lead to a constitutional amendment. Those who would ascribe to the original Constitution a special-revelational quality are guilty of twentieth-century idolatry.

2. Non-public schools are divisive. One wonders how seriously people make such a charge—one that is leveled also against the evangelical churches. The question, I would say, is one of loyalty: loyalty to a state-controlled secular educational system or to the principle that pluralism in education is a better guardian of freedom than is a state monopoly in education. For the Christian who believes that the Word of God demands that education for his children be God-centered, a further dilemma is posed: Is he to obey God or man? And if he obeys God, why should he be deprived of the benefits of his educational tax dollar?

3. It would benefit Roman Catholics. True. And a more just society would also benefit evangelical Christians, and I hope every other American (and Canadian) citizen also. I am for civil rights, not because my family is Negro, but because justice, decency, and Christian love demand it. I trust we all agree that a Christian church or a Christian school that supports racial discrimination is a contradiction in terms. And if a social system can be made more just, may the day come quickly, regardless of its beneficiaries—Roman Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Negroes, Spanish-Americans, anyone. The Word of God leaves us with no alternative.

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4. It would ruin the public school. This same argument was used to maintain the established church; it is essentially an argument for establishment and against freedom. For if freedom has any meaning at all, it means the opportunity to choose from among alternatives, including the alternative of an education consistent with one’s religious convictions. As Dr. Harold W. Dodds, former president of Princeton University, has written: “When it is no longer possible for a man to find a school for his boy except within a universal state system, it will be too late to worry about freedom.” Two further observations: First, if there would be a mass exodus from the public schools as a result of free parental choice in education, that would mean that public education is, at best, second choice for these parents. Second, if the public school system would collapse from the competition of other school systems, it must be in pretty bad shape. I, for one, do not believe it is.

5. It violates the principle of absolute separation of church and state. May I extend an open invitation to anyone, to any organization to define “absolute separation of church and state” and be willing to defend it? Sloganeering is an effective way to attract attention, as the advertising industry well knows. But Christian responsibility prohibits the hit-and-run technique; what is said must be defended on the basis of something other than repetition. Even the coiner of the phrase “wall of separation” was perceptive enough to refrain from defining this figure of speech. Neither expression, incidentally, appears in the Constitution itself; at best they belong in commentaries on the document.

6. The non-public schools really aren’t schools but are churches. Apparently none of the fifty state departments of education, nor the federal government, nor any branch of Canadian government, has been able to come to this conclusion. Those who attend non-public schools are not charged with truancy. A hospital does not cease to be a hospital because it is sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, the United Mine Workers, the Little Sisters of Jesus, or a local community. Name-calling serves only to confuse the issue. Referring to non-public schools as “sectarian” is a case in point. People of good taste refrain from speaking of Sectianity Today’s coverage of the meeting of the World Council of Sects at Uppsala. Non-established religiously oriented institutions are not ipso facto “sectarian.” As the courts have acknowledged a school remains a school, regardless of sponsorship.

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7. Disestablishment of the public school would make for a conglomeration of small schools. Like evangelical churches maybe, “small and inefficient units.” Would someone tell me the ideal size for a family, a church, a school, an industry, or any other organization of human beings? If the quality of education is implied here, let the proof of quality education be in the pudding, not the cookbook. Standardized tests could be given to all pupils—and let the real students, regardless of school identification, step forward.

8. Non-public schools are really not thoroughly American. Why not ask the chaplains or commanders of American troops to substantiate this? Or perhaps the local mayor or police chief. Can they identify non-public school graduates as less loyal citizens? And while gathering the data, will someone please ascertain what “thoroughly American” or “thoroughly Canadian” means? When common definitions are agreed upon, discussion either ceases or takes on meaning.

9. Education is the responsibility of the state. Really? Educating my children is my religious and civic duty. The state has an obligation to provide education when parents are unwilling or unable to do so themselves. On the same basis the state establishes orphanages, but is it the duty of the state to raise children? Only by default of the parents is the state forced to do so.

10. It forces me to support a religion I don’t believe in. This is precisely the point in favor of a disestablished church as well as a disestablished educational system. The secularistic humanism I am now forced to support is not my faith; neither do I wish it to be the faith of my children. Let those who wish to have their children reared in such an educational climate be free to do so. But let the same option be given to the Jew, the Roman Catholic, the evangelical Christian, the atheist, and others in schools whose value systems are espoused by the parents of children attending these schools. The same unrestricted choices should exist for those who claim no religious or anti-religious bias but simply want what they consider “good education” for their offspring. The school as an extension of the home should be freely chosen by the parents. Authority for training children can be delegated, but responsibility never!

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Those who would oversimplify the issue by saying that the problem is one of money are partially correct. The power to tax is the power to destroy, and with educational costs in all schools rising (necessitating higher taxes for the support of public schools), many a non-public school on both sides of the Canadian-American border is being forced to close shop. According to a 1967 Michigan School Finance Study, “eventually, through sheer financial pressure, most non-public schools could be forced to close.” Whether non-public schools were annihilated through legislative decision (swift death) or through economic strangulation (slow death) would not be important, for the end result would be the same. A presumably neutral government is destroying a religiously oriented segment of society, namely, religiously oriented education, for only the rich can compete against the overwhelming financial resources and power of the state. Those who favor a monolithic system in church, press, or education may rejoice at news of the demise of specific non-public schools, but I find it disconcerting. Analogies from church history leave me with a sense of uneasiness. The reversion to a single, monolithic school system on the part of nations that also have a monolithic political party system causes me apprehension. I am too skeptical or realistic to believe that within the coming decade the public schools of our land are going to be staffed, administered, and governed by Christians. Even less do I believe the myth of “local control” of public schools by Christians. Court prohibitions of prayers and the dropping of baccalaureate services do not reassure me. Nor was I exuberant at the news that in Boonton, New Jersey, Christmas carols were prohibited from the high-school Christmas concert. (Substitutions were “Babes in Toyland” moving on to “Moon River.”)

What of the future? Whose future? Admittedly neither the public nor the non-public schools are sacred cows. Closing down one group or the other scarcely seems responsible in a society such as ours, any more than closing parts of our cities would solve our housing and urban-development problems. But justice and liberty are more than contemporary social institutions. Truthfulness has a bearing, and one cannot help wondering about the remarks of a clergyman in a public meeting that “they” are “trying to get a firm hold on the public treasury” and that we should have “faith and hope in the public school … the cornerstone of our society.” If you can find biblical or other evidence for the validity of such a statement, please send me a letter or telegram.

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I suspect my discussion has been long enough. What I have tried to say is that I do not believe that the full implications of justice for every American and Canadian citizen have yet been developed. The fewer real choices and options available, the smaller this thing called freedom becomes and the more questionable “liberty and justice for all.” To do nothing to disestablish existing situations in society that perpetuate unwarranted limitations upon religious, educational, and ethnic minorities is to help establish a society with the announced target date of 1984.

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