Sooner or later, it appears, “parochiaid” (government subsidy of private education) will become a reality in Michigan and other states. In Michigan, both houses of the legislature (with the governor’s blessing) have already approved it on a preliminary basis; it only remains to be seen whether for utilitarian reasons, mainly the fear of a tax-increase in an election year, the legislature might yet back-track and postpone final approval for this year. It appears likely, however, that eventually, with a strong push from Roman Catholic quarters and—sad to say—from Christian School officials and even legislators from the Reformed community, some degree of parochiaid will be tried in Michigan. In four other states such subsidy is already a matter of law. And in all, parochiaid has become an issue in a total of thirty-three states, according to a recent news report.
Now it is not the purpose of this editorial to discuss anew this entire issue. This has been done; and it is the position of this writer that on the basis of principle it would be wrong for our schools to accept such subsidy. Moreover, I believe that acceptance of such subsidy will ultimately lead to the death of the Christian school as a genuinely Christian school. It will necessarily lead to a de-Christianization, or secularization, of its educational program. And it will lead to a loss both of parental control and parental interest. The final result will be that the schools will be little more than semi-private schools with a Christian name. Personally, therefore, I will never go along with the acceptance of subsidy by our schools.
But from a practical point of view, are there any ways in which we can fight this thing? There seems to be little doubt but that the passage of parochiaid will also result in an increased tax-squeeze and an increased financial load for Christian school supporters. Besides, should we not let our voice, our Christian witness, be heard on this score?
In this regard, I wish to make a few suggestions.
A “Friend of the Court” Brief?
It is freely predicted that should parochiaid become law here in Michigan (and also in other states), it will eventually be brought before the courts, both state and federal, as a constitutional question. There are foes of parochiaid among the public school forces—and also among private school supporters—who hold that government subsidy of private schools is constitutionally illegal. This claim is especially based on the principle of the separation of church and state, as it is popularly known. We must remember that the preponderance of support and drive for government subsidy comes from the Roman Catholics. And Roman Catholic schools, of course, are not only private schools with religious instruction; but they are literally parochial schools, schools under the control of the institute of the Roman Catholic Church. Other schools, among them ours, are more generally classed as “religious” or “church-related.”; but they are, in fact, parental schools, not parochial schools. Nevertheless, it appears certain that government subsidy in general will become a court issue.
If this happens, then I suggest that one or more of our school boards look into the possibility of filing what is called an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) Brief.
What is that?
It is a device whereby a third party can intervene in a court case. If such a third party is not engaged in the court action, but has a special interest in or special knowledge of the issue(s) involved in that court action, he may intervene during its hearing to give information for the assistance of the court, either upon some fact relevant to the issue or upon a point of law, such as the effect of a local custom, the precedent of some decided case, etc. This is done by way of filing a brief, and it would have to be done, of course, through a qualified attorney. An illustration of this kind of action is the recent case in New York (mentioned recently in All Around Us) concerning the taxation of church property. In that case an individual tax-payer sued to force the taxation of church property. But several other parties (both for and against) filed friend of the court briefs in order to protect what they claimed were their rights in the case.
In an eventual court hearing about parochiaid we could file such a brief. I will not venture to suggest the contents of such a brief; that would be for a legal expert to say. In my opinion, to file such a brief is our right under the law of the land; and the only restriction on its contents which I would want to insist upon is that it should not be utilitarian in its argumentation, but consistent with our principles.
The possible advantage of such a brief would be that it would be an anti-parochiaid brief coming from supporters of a Christian school, whereas undoubtedly most of the opposition to parochiaid will be from public school forces. The very unusualness of an antiparochiaid brief coming from private school supporters might cause a court to take special notice.
The matter is at least worth looking into. And if it is possible and advantageous, thorough preparation should be made.
Use Your Vote
As long as the power of the ballot is granted us, we should make use of it, and should do as Christian school supporters. Especially in communities, such as Grand Rapids, where there are rather large numbers of Christian school supporters, proper use of the power of the vote could have real effect upon school issues.
One such issue could be that of parochiaid itself. It has been suggested by some legislators that the parochiaid issue would be made the subject of a referendum in the State of Michigan, that is, it would be submitted to a popular vote. If this should happen, then I consider it the calling of the Christian citizen to go to the polls and to vote against it, both out of principle and out of the practical desire to get rid of it.
Another area in which the power of the ballot can be used is that of public school taxes. The public school is simply a fact of life in this country, whether we favor it or not. But especially in view of the fact that one of the arguments used in support of parochiaid is the financial one, i.e., that because of the increasing cost of public education and the resultant increased tax burden it is becoming more difficult to meet the expenses of our Christian schools, I consider it a matter of duty to vote to limit the funds available to the public schools as much as possible. These schools are notorious, both at state and local levels, for their striving to obtain and to spend ever more and more tax dollars. There seems to be no end to their voracious appetite. And they are also notorious for spending money much more extravagantly and inefficiently than our Christian schools do or are able to do. This is true at the operational level (where there is, of course, the added push of the public school teachers’ unions and the threat of strikes). It is also true as far as public school building programs are concerned: far from attempting to put up buildings economically, they are always trying to build luxurious educational palaces, complete with large gymnasia and swimming pools and football fields. Always they are requesting higher and higher tax millage. Now I have no illusions that this can always be prevented, or even that it can ultimately be prevented at all. But it is a fact that the voter turnout at such school elections is usually small. It is also a fact that in a community like Grand Rapids there are enough Christian school constituents to defeat a millage proposal in many instances. To me, it is the part of folly to vote more funds for the public schools when we have our own schools to pay for and to operate. And to me, it is double folly when alleged Christian school supporters even campaign for and take an active part in these, extravagant public school proposals. Let Christian school supporters rather use their ballot, wherever that is possible, to limit the tax funds available to the public schools. And if, then, the public schools have problems living within the kind of budget that our Christian schools can and do live within, then let them solve their own problems. Let the dead bury their dead!
To this writer, it is this area of our stewardship which is the most important.
It is a fact of our life as covenant parents that we are required to lay out large sums of money for our own schools. This has become a way of life for us as Reformed believers. We want covenant education for our children; and God has given us the opportunity and the means to provide it, even in a land where public education is the law of the land. This admittedly involves somewhat of a financial squeeze. In this connection, however, I hasten to add a few comments: 1) The financial squeeze about which parochiaid proponents talk so much is, as a matter of fact, much more of a Roman Catholic squeeze than anything else. 2) Admittedly the costs of our schools (and of our churches, I may add) make it impossible for us to live financially as the world does, to keep up with the world’s Joneses. The funds we must spend for our churches and our schools would go far toward the purchase of a fancy boat, or a new car every year, or a more expensive house, or a costly vacation trip. 3) We of today do not yet know what financial problems for our Christian schools are in comparison with the problems which our schools and parents faced in the Great Depression of the thirties. I sometimes think and fear that we are in danger of becoming spiritually soft in this affluent age, and that if we had to face problems like those of the thirties, many a school might fold under the strain. 4) Our people, on the whole, have been able to support and have supported our schools royally.
In this connection, I wish to make two points.
The first is this, that as long as you and I, as good stewards of the earthly goods God has given us, follow the principles of seeking first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, there is no danger for our schools. This, after all, is the secret of the success of our school movement. It has been thus with. Christian schools from earliest days. And it still is thus. God has given to each of us his own measure of earthly goods. He has given us those goods not to seek ourselves and the things of this present time, but to serve Him and to seek His kingdom. This is the principle by which we must be guided.
In the second place, we, our boards and our societies, must be good stewards in regard to our schools and their finances. And let me add: normally our boards have worked hard at this and have done good work! The place of the school is to provide the education which the parents themselves cannot provide. And the business of the school is education,—not recreation or any other frills. For this purpose our funds must be spent, and spent wisely and conscientiously, to the end that our children may be both well-educated and distinctively educated. Also in this respect, I believe, we need not and ought not attempt to keep up with the world’s Joneses and add the luxuries and the frills, either operationally or plant wise, which the world seeks. For example, our schools can very well do without big gymnasia and athletic plants. This is neither the need nor the calling of the school. Let us act the part of good stewards, who spend their goods wisely in seeking the kingdom. Then if there is need, our people have always been responsive to such need, according as God has given the means.
But by all means, let our schools face the future without a worldly crutch, dedicated to the seeking of the kingdom of God, and trusting in a faithful covenant God.