Several years ago, when I was conducting research into the “Charitable Choice” provisions of 1992 Welfare Reform (more familiarly known as Bush’s “Faith-Based Initiative”), I interviewed a local pastor who was very skeptical of the prospect of contracting with government to provide social services. His memorable “take” : “With the government’s shekels come the government’s shackles.”
I thought about that pithy observation when I read a couple of recent articles reporting that voucher schools–schools that receive taxpayer dollars–are teaching creationism and other religious doctrines.
A Politico review found that over 300 of these publicly-funded religious schools teach the biblical creation story as fact, distort and misrepresent basic facts about the scientific method and “nurture distrust of science.”
The law in this area is settled, and quite clear: Public dollars cannot be used to teach religious dogma. If and when lawsuits are filed–and the likelihood is that they will be–these schools will have to face the reality of that Pastor’s observation. They have a choice: take the money and teach real science, or forego the money and teach whatever they want.
Whatever one’s view of education vouchers as policy (my view, as readers of this blog know, is pretty dim for a whole raft of reasons), one thing is clear: If private or parochial schools take public dollars, they have to abide by the same constitutional standards that govern public schools.
If they are unwilling to acquiesce to the “government’s shackles,” they will have to give up the government’s shekels.