Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is getting new pushback on his school voucher program, which is now the biggest in the country.
Opposition is coming from the Interfaith Alliance, a national, nonpartisan grassroots and educational organization based in Washington that has 185,000 members nationwide made up of 75 faith traditions as well as those of no faith tradition.
A letter sent to Jindal on Tuesday signed by the alliance’s president, the Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, says in part: “Your school voucher scheme is bad for religious freedom and bad for public education as well as a blatant attack on the religious freedom clauses in the United States Constitution.”
The program is a result of a new law that allows the state to offer vouchers to more than half of Louisiana’s public school students, and dozens of religious schools have been given permission to accept voucher students even though they have not shown that they have the resources to handle the influx.
Many of these schools use curriculum that promotes Young Earth Creationism, which holds the belief that the universe is no older than 10,000 years old despite definitive scientific evidence that it is billions of years old. And Jindal is supporting an “accountability” plan that says private schools in the program with fewer than 40 voucher students don’t have to show that those students have achieved basic competency in reading, math, social studies and science in order to keep receiving state funds. Some accountability, huh?
The letter from Gaddy, pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, La., is of special interest because it comes from the faith community.
Here’s the text of the letter:
August 7, 2012
The Honorable Bobby Jindal
Office of the Governor of Louisiana
P.O. Box 94004
Baton Rouge, LA 70804-9004
Dear Governor Jindal:
I write to you as the President of Interfaith Alliance to express my disappointment, concern and indeed, outrage at the school voucher program you have implemented in the state of Louisiana. Not only do I represent this national organization whose members come together from 75 faith traditions and belief systems to protect religious freedom, champion individual rights, and promote policies that protect both religion and democracy, I also serve as Senior Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Northminster (Baptist) Church in Monroe, and thus, I am one of your constituents. Your school voucher scheme is bad for religious freedom and bad for public education as well as a blatant attack on the religious freedom clauses in the United States Constitution.
Thankfully, thoughtful educators, concerned citizens, and media representatives in the state are exposing your ruthless attack on public education — the provision that the founders of our nation considered essential to the survival of our democracy. You seem unable to distinguish between religious indoctrination and basic public education. Though Interfaith Alliance is a non-litigious agency, we are encouraging other agencies to file suits challenging your decision to use public tax dollars to build structures for churches across the state and to fund educational curricula that qualify more as a catechism than as a tool for holistic education. Of course, you flaunted your disregard for government-subsidized religion by choosing a Roman Catholic Church as the venue at which to sign your legislation!
When in 1785 the state of Virginia considered a bill that would fund “Teachers of the Christian Religion,” James Madison penned his famous remonstrance reminding his contemporaries, and indeed, generations to come, that “it is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him.” Put another way, funding, participating in, and sending our children to religious education programs is the right and responsibility of faith communities, clergy, and parents as they see fit — not of our government. Every American also has an equal right to choose not to fund or participate in religious education.
Your voucher program also will fund private schools and curricula that are inevitably not up to the standards of quality information of public schools, and fund the teaching of theology, which goes against the fundamentals of our religious freedom. I was appalled to learn that private schools—funded with my taxes—will teach our children that evolution does not exist, using the fabled Loch Ness Monster as a “real” example, from textbooks that state:
“God created each type of fish, amphibian, and reptile as separate, unique animals. Any similarities that exist among them are due to the fact that one Master Craftsmen fashioned them all.”
Let me be clear: I am not appalled that a Christian school is teaching its students that God created the Earth. Children in my church learn that every Sunday. I am appalled that these schools are teaching theology as science; and they’re doing so with government money, my tax dollars. Teaching the theology of Creationism is part of the mission of religious schools, and religious education more broadly—I defend with my life’s work their right to teach future generations about their faith. But they should not receive financial support from our government to do so.
What often gets lost in the conversation around school vouchers is the negative impact they can have on religious schools. In the short term, having new revenue streams is of course helpful to private schools, but the fact is that with government money comes government regulation, which can open religious schools up to all kinds of threats to their autonomy that it is in religion’s best interest to avoid. Furthermore, public education is often called the “great equalizer,” and right now, our nation is at a place in history in which all of us truly need to learn how to get along with each other and work together for the good of our nation despite our differences in religion, ethnicity, race, and income. Besides preparing our children and young people to be proficient in math, science, grammar, thinking, and communication skills, public education has no greater role than enabling us to work and walk together despite obvious diversity. Many of the private schools in Louisiana that you are supporting with millions of dollars of vouchers are honestly saying upfront that their mission is sectarian education that promotes one faith over another and makes no effort to commend the common good.
Finally, one of the central problems with school voucher programs could not be on clearer display than it is in Louisiana: Vouchers create competition between religious groups for government funds, and put the government in a position to prefer one over another. A case in point is the reason state Rep. Valarie Hodges changed her position on the school voucher program. I wish that I could celebrate this move, and had she decided to no longer support it because she realized how harmful such funding is to our religious freedom, I would have. Instead, she changed her position on vouchers because she found out that not only Christian groups received the funding, but Muslim groups can too. As a former Hindu—a minority religion in this nation—you, as much as anyone in our state, should be fully aware that herein lies one of the many problems with funneling government money to religious groups. By doing so, the government can (or at least can try) to pick and choose between them -- exactly the situation our founders created the First Amendment to avoid.
In short, the school vouchers system you have allowed to be implemented in our state embodies everything that is wrong with school vouchers as a whole and threatens the integrity of both religion and government. I hope that you will take a step back and see that what you are doing is propelling education in Louisiana back to a level that will decrease even more our abominable ranking when it comes to education in our nation. You are hurting the state, the education of our children, and broadsiding an affront to the values of religious freedom that most of us hold dear.
I am incapable of and uninterested in judging your motivations for such a destruction of education in our state. But, you are capable of changing your mind and helping the situation rather than hurting it. Governor Jindal, please, for the sake of all that is good about education, religious freedom, and our state, put an end to the school vouchers program in Louisiana.
C. Welton Gaddy
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