Russell and Duenes

Compelled To Support Opinions Which They Disbelieve

with 5 comments

jefferson4I’m becoming ever more attracted to the argument that government-funded public schools are an unconstitutional establishment of religion, though I wouldn’t say I’m fully there. The Establishment Clause says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” I recognize that in our current culture, the argument that public schools are an unconstitutional establishment of religion is unlikely even to pass the laugh test. Would that there were less Christians laughing.

I have various reasons for finding the argument more than merely plausible, and time-allowing, I would like to provide those reasons. But I’ll make a modest start here. The U.S. Supreme Court, in one of it’s landmark Establishment Clause cases, took great pains to laud and exalt Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Preamble to his Virginia Bill for Religious Liberty in the 1786. See Everson v. Board of Ed. Ewing Tp., 330 U.S. 1, 13 (1947). In the Preamble, Jefferson states that “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical.” Id. Further, the statute provides that “no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened, in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief.” Id.

Do not public schools “compel” orthodox Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other religious believers “to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which [they] disbelieve?” Indeed they do. Public schools propagate many views which I, as a Christian, and which many of my Christian brothers and sisters, disbelieve. And yet we must support such schools with our tax money. Further, by and large, we are compelled to have our children attend such schools by force of law. Thus, I hold, along with Jefferson, that such a thing is “sinful and tyrannical.” I also believe that religious believers in public schools “suffer on account of [our] religious opinions or belief.” This happens in explicit and implicit ways, which I would be happy to expand upon further. At this point, it suffices to say that many religious views and teachings are marginalized and belittled in government schools, and this happens in official and quasi-official ways.

To this, one will object: “But education is not ‘religion.’ Jefferson was talking about religion and church, not schools.” I will be happy to respond to this objection, and to do so based significantly on further judicial opinions, in subsequent posts.


Written by Michael Duenes

April 7, 2013 at 7:36 pm

5 Responses

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  1. Indeed, Mencius Moldbug makes a similar argument on his blog:

    He considers both the mainstream media and the education system to be the two branches of The Cathedral, and he considers those to be religious in nature because they tell people how and what to think.

    Silas Reinagel

    April 7, 2013 at 8:10 pm

  2. Interesting. Why stop with schools? I think if I went through my fed, state and local budgets I’d find a great many line items that propagate opinions I disbelieve, in that public outreach/communication is a big part of them. First thing that comes to mind is federal funding of Planned Parenthood.

    Andy M

    April 8, 2013 at 9:31 am

    • A good point, A, which is why I’m still tentative about my proposal. I’ll have to think about it some more, but my general inclination is that education is unique. I’ll have to show why in subsequent posts.


      russell and duenes

      April 8, 2013 at 3:24 pm

  3. How about the tenth amendment? Powers not granted to the Federal government by the constitution are reserved for the states. Since the constitution does not grant the Fed the right to make public schools, federally funded schools are therefore unconstitutional.


    April 9, 2013 at 6:35 pm

    • B – Couldn’t agree more. I’d certainly go in for a market-based system. Give us all our tax money back and let us start our own schools. Those who want secular schools, have at it. The federal government wants to control education for reasons that have nothing to do with education. I believe they’d put the homeschooling movement out to pasture if they had the political capital to do it.


      russell and duenes

      April 9, 2013 at 8:52 pm

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