Vouchers for Satan?
by Ari Armstrong, June 28, 2002
A federal circuit court ruled 2-1 that "the Pledge of Allegiance [is] unconstitutional," as David Kravets of the AP put it June 28. Of course that's nonsense: the court decided only that requiring children to invoke God in government schools is unconstitutional. Now, the circuit court has decided to reconsider the case, and John Ashcroft has also said he wants the matter reviewed.
Not even libertarians agree about the issue. In a June 27 press release, the national LP stated:
Libertarians are applauding Wednesday's federal court ruling striking down the mandatory Pledge of Allegiance, because a nation in which a government can coerce religion or patriotism is no longer free... The way to quell the controversy over the Pledge of Allegiance in schools is to extricate government from the schools, Libertarians say.
The Objectivists, too, seem happy with the ruling. But a number of libertarians have decried the ruling on a local chat list.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that vouchers are not inherently unconstitutional because they divert tax money to private schools, many of which are religious in nature. Again the libertarian community is split: some see greater opportunity for markets, while others fear more government regulation of private schools and more dependence on government dollars.
Both of these issues have local significance. State Senator John Andrews supports requiring the Pledge as well as posting the 10 Commandments in government schools. Vouchers or some variant pop up every year in the state legislature. In a related story, the Rocky Mountain News reports June 28, "School officials aren't required to hang tiles with religious themes... three federal appeals judges ruled Thursday."
Note the enormous struggle over how government schools should be run. Who makes the rules? Who decides? Will the seemingly intractable debates ever be finally resolved?
Why is this socialized industry the cause of so much social strife?
I wish our conservative Christian friends who claim vouchers don't violate the First Amendment would answer a simple question. Are you going to defend vouchers as rigorously, using the same arguments, when the Church of Satan decides to open a tax-subsidized school in Colorado? Will you continue to argue that vouchers are "neutral"? Or are you instead going to argue that vouchers should be restricted by "reasonable, common-sense" guidelines? And exactly who is going to establish those guidelines? It's a fair question. I know people who consider Christianity as offensive as Christians find Satanism.
Similarly, how many conservatives would allow a government school to require its students to recite, "One nation, under Allah, with liberty and justice for all"? How about "under Zeus" or "under Lucifer"?
Here is the blunt truth. As long as the government runs schools, one group of people in society will force another group to pay for the promotion of ideas which it finds offensive. There is only one way out of this endless conflict. But only libertarians are willing name it: END GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT IN EDUCATION.
To add your name to the Separation of School and State Proclamation, which states, "I proclaim publicly that I favor ending government involvement in education," see http://www.sepschool.org/.
Notes from the Press
In the days after I published the above article, some interesting comments came out in the mainstream press. Diane Carman ably summed up the libertarian argument against vouchers, even though she is hardly a libertarian. Her article appeared in the Denver Post, page 1B, June 30:
If tax money is supporting religious schools, sooner or later I'm going to demand to know what's going on in there. I'm going to want oversight, and accountability. I won't just accept them on faith.
The same day, Ed Quillen wrote with his characteristic good sense on the matter of the Pledge. He pointed out that the Pledge really doesn't do much, except maybe make some conservatives feel better. Interestingly, the author of the Pledge, Edward Bellamy, was a socialist. America did quite well before the Pledge was written in 1892. "The pledge will remain enshrined in American public life. But no matter how often it is recited, it won't make much difference, one way or the other."
On June 29, Mike Littwin of the Rocky Mountain News also criticized vouchers. He noted the Supreme Court's ruling that vouchers are "neutral" with respect to religion. "And the parents could choose a secular school or one with any religious affiliation. Like, say, Satanism. Sure. Why not? ...[A]re you sure you, as a taxpayer, want to subsidize the teaching of Satanism?"
In the same paper, Vincent Carroll derides the reasoning made by the courts about the Pledge as "an invention of the 20th century." He anticipates, "If the pledge is banished, then surely it would be unconstitutional for a teacher to force students to memorize the part of the Declaration of Independence that says humans are 'endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights'."
I don't buy Carroll's reasoning. There's an enormous difference between teaching history and requiring students to pledge their allegiance to a cause or idea. Again, I do not believe there is any sensible solution to the controversy over the Pledge of Allegiance, other than to restore the free market with respect to education.