The question whether the parochiaid movement is a question of justice or a mere quest for money we began to consider in the last issue. I have tried to present the various claims and arguments made by representatives and supporters of the movement as objectively as possible and to document this presentation by means of quotations.
In this installment I will try to present an evaluation of the movement’s claim of justice and right and to present reasons for what I contend should be the position of our covenantal schools with respect to these claims.
Let me state from the outset that it is my firm conviction that the parochiaid movement, considered from the viewpoint of our Reformed principles, cannot be upheld as a movement that is founded upon principles of justice and right. And to me this leaves the other alternative: it is a clamor for money, for a government subsidy, without regard to and in violation of true principles. I have several reasons for this conviction; and in presenting them I will move from the less important to the more important.
In the first place, there is the fact that the parochiaid movement only seeks government aid, or subsidy, and then only partial aid and at only one level of government involved in education. The current proposal before the Michigan legislature is for 50% of the average net full-time membership allowance to public schools (100% in inner city target areas). And this concerns, of course, only state funds, not local school funds. Now this is a very strange way of doing for a movement which is supposed to base its claims on justice and fairness. Certainly, right is right! If I am accused of the crime of murder and am innocent, then I am not going to plead that I receive a 10-year prison term instead of the electric chair. I am going to insist that I should be declared innocent and should receive no penalty whatsoever. Thus, too, if private schools are rightfully entitled to government support, then they should insist upon such support on an equal basis with public schools as a matter of principle. Moreover, they should insist that this same principle be applied at the local level. But this they dare not do,—as a matter ofutility. They know full well that a proposal for an equal share of all school money at local, state, and federal levels would be laughed right out of the halls of government. In fact, they are aware that some legislators already fear that eventually they will be demanding 100% subsidy. To me, all this does not leave the impression of being .a movement dedicated to high ideals of justice and righteousness. On the contrary, it leaves the impression of being a movement motivated by expediency and probably of being a movement capable of engaging in some political horse-trading. If my case is based on principles of justice, then I should make my case on that basis, plead it on the basis of what is right and just according to the Word of God; and then, if those in authority will not heed me, I can do nothing but rest the case with the Lord, the right righteous Judge.
In the second place, in close connection with the preceding, the whole movement gives every indication of being a pressure movement, of trying to gain a place under the sun as a power-structure. Last year, as I reported, pressure was exerted upon parents through the schools. This same kind of pressure has been exerted on legislators. Now it may be argued, perhaps, that this is the only language the world understands and that this is the kind of tactics which must be employed to get the legislature to pay attention and to vote your way. But this does not make it right. This has only too often been the failure of would-be Christian organizations in various areas of life. They seek worldly power, the same kind of power which the world employs in its organizations to gain its ends. A Christian movement, which is based on justice and righteousness according to the Word of God, should be ashamed to employ such tactics. Its proper power is not the power of a power-structure, not the power of numbers, not the power of the majority, but the power of the Word, the power of the truth, the power of the Spirit. True, you will not “succeed” with such methods; you will go down to defeat in this world, just exactly because the world does not recognize such methods. But if “success” is the criterion, then you have already conceded that it is not really a question of justice and righteousness, but one of utility.
In the third place, the advocates of parochiaid, both within and outside of the legislature here in Michigan, have themselves by their own arguments made the issue one of money. This is also true in other states where government subsidy of schools is being discussed. On the one hand, they claim that they will not be able to keep their private schools open without government subsidy. On the other hand, they point to the fact that the closing of private schools will cost the state more money to operate public schools. They take pains to point out how many students have already transferred to public schools and how many may be expected to transfer to public schools in the near future. And they take pains to point out how many more millions of dollars this is going to cost the state. Again, this does not sound like a justice-movement to me. Nor does it sound to me like the language of those with whom Christian education is a matter of deep conviction and principle. I assure you that if this had been the outlook of covenant parents in the days of the Great Depression of the 1930’s, all the Christian schools would have closed their doors. I assure you that if this had been the outlook of our fathers in the beginning of the Christian school movement, no schools would have been started. I assure you that if it had been a mere question of money, our Protestant Reformed school movement would never have gotten off the ground: No Reformed Christian educator or parent should. Want to have any part in a movement which makes our schools a matter of dollars and centsor that lumps our schools together with a movement which does this. (I am well aware, of course, that this whole dollars-and-cents argument concerns chiefly the Roman Catholic schools which in many places are in deep financial trouble. This does not change the fact that the Christian school movement has very much involved itself in the fight for parochiaid and has joined organizations which employ this kind of argumentation. For this they should be thoroughly ashamed!) And certainly our Protestant Reformed parents can lend no support to a movement of this kind.
In the fourth place, it is, of course, very easy to turn the arguments used in favor of parochiaid around. The argument about an equal or rightful share of the taxes can be turned around as follows: every tax-payer has the full right to make use of the public schools which the government provides with those taxes; if he chooses not to do so, but to send his children to the Christian school, he is free to do so at his own expense. And the argument which claims that private schools educate, that they serve the same educational purpose as the public schools, and that therefore they are entitled to state money can also be turned around. If it be true that they serve the same educational purpose and thus serve the general public welfare even as do the public schools, then why did they open in the first place? Besides, such duplication of effort is expensive, whether it be public or private. Of course, everyone will recognize that there is something fallacious about this whole argument. Either there is a complete denial, of the true character of Christian education when you make a statement like this, or there is a devious cover-up of the divergent character of Christian education “Education” in the public schools and “education” in the Reformed Christian school are two completely divergent concepts.
I have intentionally left out of the picture any question of the constitutionality of government subsidy of parental or of parochial schools. Personally, I do not believe that either the state or the federal constitution allow such aid, especially when I consider the fact that government subsidy of a Roman Catholic (parochial) school would be direct subsidy of the Roman Catholic Church. And I think it requires a considerable amount of devious legal reasoning in order to get around constitutional provisions. But in the changing judicial climate of our day it is entirely possible that legislatures and courts may somehow manage to justify such subsidy some day. And therefore I have not pressed this matter. To me, it makes not a particle of difference whether the state allows it or not; and the constitution is not decisive of the issue for me. I believe the entire movement is principally wrong; and we as Christians should have no part of it.
My space is already more than used up for this issue; and therefore the rest of my arguments, the more basic arguments, will have to wait until next time.