Christian Schools and the Law

Several decisions which have recently been made by the courts have repercussions for our Christian Schools. The first has to do with matters of racial discrimination and tax exemption. 

A recent article in the Grand Rapids Press, entitled “IRS Bars Discrimination in Tax-Exempt Church Schools” speaks of an Internal Revenue Service ruling. We quote the article here in its entirety. The whole article is not altogether clear on some points, but the general thrust of the ruling is clear enough.

The Internal Revenue Service announced Thursday that tax-exempt status would henceforth be denied to church-affiliated primary and secondary schools that refuse to accept children from all racial and ethnic groups. 

Tax-exempt status will be denied even in cases where the denomination running the school claims that its exclusionary policies are required by its religious beliefs, the IRS said. 

Such a claim has no more validity under the first amendment than the claims previously rejected by the Supreme Court that the use of illegal drugs in religious rites is protected by the First Amendment, the IRS said. 

Private schools with discriminatory admissions policies, other than those that are church-affiliated, were denied tax-exempt status under a ruling issued by the IRS in 1971. The question of tax-exemptions for schools with religious affiliations was left open at that time because IRS officials found it a difficult issue that they wanted to consider at greater length. 

A grant of tax-exempt status under Section 501 (C) (3) of the Internal Revenue Code means that contributors to the exempt church, school or other organization may deduct those contributions on their tax returns. This is generally considered an important incentive for such contributions. 

The ruling issued Thursday will halt any new grants of exempt status to denominational schools that discriminate in admissions. 

It is likely to be some time, however, before any present tax-exemptions are revoked under the ruling. An-IRS official explained that the agency had not yet written its instructions to its field offices.

He said the agency hoped to have these instructions completed before the start of the next school year. 

IRS officials were unable to say just how many schools might be affected. They noted that in addition to schools, that exclude blacks, which are chiefly but not solely located in the South, there are some denominational schools that bar whites which would also be affected. 

Some schools run by Black Muslims and some schools in Hawaii fall into the latter category, an official said. 

The ruling affects only schools that operate an educational program that is a recognized substitute for public schooling in the grades where school attendance is mandatory. 

Thus it would not affect any educational institution above the high school level. 

Neither would the ruling affect exclusionary policies that were solely religious. A denominational school could restrict its students to the members of that denomination and retain its tax-exempt status.

Christianity Today commented also on this:

A court in Richmond, Virginia, in ruling that blacks cannot be barred from private schools because of race, upheld a lower-court ruling based on the 1866 Civil Rights Act. The act prohibits refusing to enter into a contract with blacks because of their race. If upheld by the Supreme Court, the decision will affect the hundreds of segregated schools that were organized to skirt the high court’s 1954 public schools desegregation ruling. Many of the schools are run by churches. 

Relatedly, private schools would be required to submit annual proof of racial non-discrimination in order to qualify for income-tax exemption under an Internal Revenue Service proposal.

It is clear from the ruling of the IRS that tax-exempt status will no longer be granted to any private school which practices racial discrimination. It is also clear that the IRS is making plans to withdraw tax-exempt status from those private schools which now have such status, but which practice discrimination. This latter will take a little time, according to the article; but that day is near. It is also clear that this will have a profound effect on many existing private schools. 

There are however, a couple of points which are not so clear. One point that is not clear has to do with the last paragraph in the Press report. The paragraph reads: “Neither would the ruling affect exclusionary policies that were solely religious. A denominational school could restrict its students to the members of that denomination and retain its tax-exempt status.” This paragraph seems to mean that as long as a particular school limited its enrollment to members of the denomination which operates the school, such a school could keep its tax-exempt status. But there are questions. In the first place, does this apply to parental schools which are not denominationally operated, such as our own Christian Schools? If our schools would, for example, limit enrollment to children of parents who are Protestant Reformed, would this satisfy the IRS? The answer is not clear.

In the second place, the paragraph speaks of “exclusionary policies that (are) solely religious.” Does this mean that, if our schools could prove to the IRS that the truth as we believe and confess it is taught in every subject in the curriculum, and that our discriminatory policies were not on the basis of race, but on the basis of creed, that then we could retain our status? This has always been our policy. We have never given any thought to discrimination on the basis of race, color or national origin. But we have discriminated sharply on the basis of creed. Is this sufficient to satisfy the IRS? Again, the answer is not) clear at this point. 

In the third place, if the ruling of the IRS means that there are no reasons at all why a school can refuse admittance to any student, will the government pay the tuition of minority group students and students from the inner city, if the government wants them enrolled in local Christian schools? This has been suggested to me in the past by some. It has been said that the government aims to get inner city students in the Christian School system: that the government will do this even if the government must pay the busing and tuition costs, and that failure to admit these students will result in the loss of tax-exempt status, and ultimately of accreditation. If this is ultimately what the government has in mind, this will mean the end of the Christian Schools. 

I doubt that, at least for the moment, the government has anything quite so drastic in mind. Nevertheless, ultimately I firmly believe that the government will not tolerate indefinitely a Christian School system which is genuinely Christian. There are a couple of reasons which lead me to believe this. In the first place, we must never forget that the government is basically and fundamentally hostile to the Church. We are sometimes tempted to forget this when we do not experience overt persecution. But the government is under the control of Satan and manifests the political power of Antichrist. There is a basic antipathy against the Church and against the truth which is the deepest spiritual motive for all the government does. Sooner or later this will be directed against the Christian Schools. This is especially true when we consider the fact that those who educate children have the means to direct the lives of these children as long as they live. This is why God ordains covenant instruction as the means of perpetuating His covenant in the line of generations. But this is why the government remains vitally interested also in educating the children of the nation. The government wants its future citizens to be amenable to governmental policies whatever they may be. In the second place, it is simply a fact that, in large measure, the public school system is a colossal failure. I was reading in the Press a couple of weeks ago that the University of Michigan now requires literacy tests for admittance because many students who apply for admittance cannot read or write above a third grade level. When literacy tests are required for admittance in a University, something bad has happened to schools where children are trained. The Christian Schools on the whole have much higher academic standards than the public schools. The result is that the very existence of the Christian Schools is a constant testimony of the failure of the public school system. The government will not indefinitely tolerate such sharp condemnation of its efforts to educate. To tolerate this kind of testimony is to be forced to admit its own failure. But such is not likely to happen. The alternative is to use various ways and means to drag the Christian Schools down to the level of the Public Schools. And these recent rulings are the beginning of that effort.

Hence, if we soberly evaluate recent trends, we ought to be able to see that storm clouds, are gathering on the horizon of history, and that presently the storm will break in all its fury against the Church and against our covenant schools. What ought we to do? First of all, we ought to condemn sharply such practices of the government at every opportunity. Secondly, we ought to be doubly thankful for our Schools, and we ought to support them with every means at our disposal as long as the Lord gives them to us. And finally, we ought to prepare now for the evil days which are soon to come. We ought to work while it is yet day, ere the night cometh in which no man can labor.

There are two other matters of interest which I can only briefly mention. 

In the first place, according to Christianity Today, “an Appeals Court in Cincinnati declared unconstitutional a 1973 Tennessee law requiring public-school texts to give equal time to creationist views.” Especially the Creation Research Society has been working actively and with some success to get the public schools to give such equal time to the doctrine of creation. Tennessee had such a law which stated that evolutionism had to be labeled theory and could not be taught as scientific fact. This same law required biology textbooks to include the Genesis account of creation. But the court agreed with the National Association of Biology Teachers and ruled that the law established a preference for the biblical viewpoint. 

In the second place, according to a sheet mailed by the Nebraska Association for Christian Action, “five Christian School parents from Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania have filed suit against the Blackhawk School District and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania alleging that their First Amendment civil rights are being violated by the necessity of their paying taxes for public education as well as tuition for the Christian education of their children.” The article gives a history of the matter and informs its readers that the case went to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals on May 15. The parents intend to carry the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. The article asks that “we join in prayer . . . that the Court will rule in favor of the U.S. Constitution and freedom for Christian education.” 

According to the article, one of four directives being, sought asks the Court to: “. . . direct, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to put into effect with all deliberate speed an equitable and just distribution of public school tax monies so that plaintiffs children will enjoy the use of school tax funds on a per capita footing equal with all other students of the Commonwealth without reference to religion.” In these columns I have expressed often the fact that there is grave injustice in these matters in our country. But I am, without reservation, opposed to Christian Schools sharing in tax monies. It is simply a fact that support from the coffers of government will lead to government regulation. And, in the light of the government’s increasing encroachment on Christian School terrain, it seems irresponsible to invite the government in via a share of tax dollars.