Can education be bad if it teaches goodness? For many
liberals it appears so, at least if tax dollars are
In Ohio, as in the rest of America, taxpayers for years
have poured billions of dollars into failing public
schools. Dissatisfied with dismal results, the citizens of
Cleveland decided to try something different. Parents would
be given a voucher — tax dollars, that is — they could use to send their children to any school of their choice, public or private. By making choice available to more parents, schools would compete to attract students,
providing a powerful incentive for all schools to strive
for educational excellence.
As was expected, some parents in the Cleveland program used
the vouchers to send their children to private religious
schools. There began the rub. For liberal groups such as
the American Civil Liberties Union, educating American children is not nearly as important as severing any and all ties between the public and religion. To no one's surprise,
the ACLU led the charge against the Cleveland voucher program all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where oral
arguments were heard in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in
February. A decision is expected any day. Unfortunately,
over the past fifty years the Court has frequently affirmed
the ACLU's line on questions of religion and state.
According to the ACLU, the government — that is, the people acting in their public capacity — must avoid practicing, teaching, or supporting religious or moral views of any kind. In its defense, the ACLU claims to be standing by the Constitution. It insists nothing less is required by the Establishment Clause of the Constitution's First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...").
Earlier Americans understood that an official national
religion is politically dangerous, which is why the First
Amendment prohibits Congress from establishing one. But the
Establishment Clause was never intended to prohibit
government from promoting religion and morality. Contrary
to the ACLU, the men who framed and ratified the Constitution and Bill of Rights rightly believed political
freedom and good government require moral citizens capable
of governing themselves. And they thought religion a
powerful means of moral education that ought to be promoted
For example, the first Congress (which adopted the First
Amendment) passed the Northwest Ordinance, which stated, "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." While prohibiting an "establishment of religion," the First Amendment also protects the "free exercise thereof." Clearly, the first Congress saw no conflict between the First Amendment and schools teaching religion and morality.
George Washington was typical of the common sense
combination of religion, morality, and freedom. In his
Farewell Address, Washington remarked that "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." He warned against demagogues who would "claim the tribute of patriotism," yet "labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men
Washington's words are prescient with regard to the ACLU:
an organization that claims the tribute of patriotism while
laboring to subvert religion and morality, those "great
pillars of human happiness."
The ACLU clings to its twisted, almost laughable
interpretation of the First Amendment because of its
devotion to a radical new theory about human beings, the
theory of modern liberalism. According to this new view,
human freedom means doing whatever feels good, with little
regard to the distinction between right and wrong. Right
and wrong mean whatever we want them to mean — which means right and wrong cease to have much meaning.
Religion is intrinsically moral. In light of modern
liberalism, therefore, religion is nothing but an
antiquated restriction of freedom. This explains the ACLU's
historically unsupportable position that "the Constitution
commands that public schools may not take sides in matters
of religion and may not endorse...any religion at all."
According to ACLU founder Roger Baldwin, schoolchildren
should not even be allowed any time for personal meditation
because "the implication is that you're meditating about
the hereafter or God or something," which might suggest to
their young minds, heaven forbid, moral ideas of right and
Of course the American cause is emphatically a moral cause,
stated perhaps most clearly and eloquently in the
Declaration of Independence. As the Declaration asserts,
the "laws of nature and of nature's God" are the source of
our rights. Public recognition of religion, morality, and
God, then, is in the service of the rights of all men and
women, including atheists who might belong to the ACLU. And
as the purpose of government is "to secure these rights,"
it is the right, if not the duty, of government to promote
that public recognition.
So long as the ACLU remains dedicated to modern liberalism,
however, it will continue in its zealous opposition to
religion and morality in American public life, even if it
requires inventing new and fantastic meanings for the
In the end, the dispute over Cleveland's voucher program
involves much more than tax dollars, schools, and religion.
At the heart of this controversy is one of the most
profound questions facing modern America: Are Americans
prepared to defend the moral education our children deserve
and which is indispensable for their happiness? Or are we
willing to sacrifice their happiness on the altar of a
perverse new theory that scorns religion and morality? Let
us pray (the ACLU notwithstanding) that the Court has the
fortitude to make the right decision.