The aspect of “parochiaid” which I am about to discuss, as well as the position which I will set forth in connection with it, could well have been considered under the previous question which I raised, namely “Justice or Money?” However, because the argument of a so-called “pluralistic society” is raised so frequently by advocates of government subsidy, and because this argument has the appearance of logic, and because it is an argument fundamental (at least in their own thinking) to the entire position of “parochiaid” advocates, I am devoting special consideration to this question.
A few introductory remarks are in order.
In the first place, we may note that this argument is employed by many advocates of government subsidy to non-public schools, not so much by legislative supporters of such subsidy. The latter usually argue on the pragmatic basis that non-public schools are in danger of closing because of financial troubles and that it is cheaper to give money to private schools than to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in expanding the public schools so as to absorb a threatened large influx of pupils from private schools. And they argue, further, that “non-public schools serve a very valid public purpose and make a real contribution to the general welfare.” Now also in the latter idea there are principles of education involved, principles which one has to accept if he accepts any government hand-out. And I expect to return to this matter of the fundamental view of education involved in “parochiaid” at a later date. However, in the “Report and Recommendations of the Joint Legislative Committee on Aid to Non-Public Schools” of the Michigan Legislature one does not find this argument of a pluralistic society. It is employed rather by private school advocates of government subsidy, especially, I have noticed, by spokesmen of the organization known as Citizens for Educational Freedom, but also by others. These spokesmen have used this argument in their pleas to the government as well as in their pleas for public support of their drive for government subsidy. And they have made it plain on more than one occasion that this “pluralism” argument belongs to the very foundation of the entire “parochiaid” position,—even to the point that some legislators have become afraid (and justly so) that ultimately the principle of “parochiaid” will mean that private schools will have to receive equal government money with public schools.
In the second place, I want to point out that the basic question in this pluralism-argument concerns the view of society involved in it. If you accept the view of society involved, then you must needs come to the conclusion that government subsidy of private schools (proceeding now on the basis that the government is rightly involved in the business of education) is not only allowable, but mandatory. And therefore it is necessary that we carefully study this pluralistic view of society; and I mean study it in the light of Scripture and our Reformed principles. One can also indeed ask the question—whether historically and constitutionally our state and our nation recognize such a pluralism.
But the fundamental question for us as Reformed people is a spiritual one. I cannot stress this too strongly. This is the sole question for us as people of God: is it right for us, before God, to advocate and to accept government subsidy of our schools? The question is not whether it is constitutional, or whether the legislature thinks it is right, or whether the courts approve it, or whether such subsidy will be made available to us, or whether all other Christian. schools are going to accept it, or even whether the refusal to accept it will involve us in financial sacrifice and make it very difficult to operate our schools. The only question is: is it right before God? This is the sole question with respect to this pluralism-argument also. Is this view that society is pluralistic the right view,—right spiritually, right from a Reformed viewpoint? Then the question does not become one of a pluralistic versus a non-pluralistic society, or of a pluralistic versus a monolithic society and educational system. But the underlying question in all this talk about a pluralistic society is whether or not we are being blinded to the real character of society. Are we in this description of society as pluralistic being led to consider society merely from a formal point of view, from a purely secular point of view, from the point of view of what are really accidental characteristics, rather than from the point of view of its essential, spiritual character? For this reason I am discussing this subject under the question, “Pluralistic or Antithetical?”
The Pluralistic View
Before we formulate an answer to the question posed, it is necessary to take a look at this view which holds that we live in a pluralistic society. What is this view? And it is but fair that we allow its advocates to speak for themselves.
One who holds to this pluralistic view of society is Dr. John Vanden Berg, vice president and dean of Calvin College. As an advocate of government subsidy for non-public schools, he prepared a statement for the record in connection with a public hearing by the Joint Legislative Committee on Aid to Non-Public Schools in Michigan. This statement was published in the Banner of Feb. 28, 1969. After arguing (correctly, but incompletely) that no education is neutral, that all education establishes “some position relative to the significance of God,” he continues by arguing that “Given the compulsory and religious nature of education, I believe that an equitable sharing of the educational tax dollar is to be defended on the grounds that it will promote freedom of choice in education and in the process strengthen the cause of freedom in all phases of social life.” This idea of freedom he then proceeds to press in connection with the point that the society in which we live is pluralistic. He writes as follows:
In the field of education freedom is the opportunity to teach our children in a way consistent with our ideals and values. In our society, a pluralistic society of some two hundred million people, citizens have different ideals or values to which they are committed. It is inconceivable that these two hundred million people or the more than eight million people in the State of Michigan will all have the same views on education. Because of this it is essential that the independent or non-public school exist; for freedom requires alternatives from which to choose, including the alternative which is consistent with one’s own commitment. A person who has no choice is not free. Public education is a free choice only if alternative choices are available, and only if these choices are available without economic penalty. Such freedom does not exist in the ‘United States today.
In 1925 the United States Supreme Court stated in the Pierce case that “the fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union reposes excludes any general power of the State to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only, The child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.”
Parents have the right to send their children to religiously-oriented schools, yet when they exercise this right they are deprived of all public educational benefits (“benefits” is used here in the sense of “funds,” HCH). Professor Wilber G. Katz put it bluntly but correctly when he said that “we exact a price for the exercise of liberty.”
Liberty at a price—this is not liberty. This is the suppression of liberty. A genuinely free society cannot impose on its citizens or demand from them, as a condition for receiving the benefits of public welfare legislation, any philosophic or religious creed. To do so would be to ask one to violate his conscience and religious convictions. It also places the government in a position to control the thought and belief of the people. Senator James Gray was absolutely right when at the August 21 hearing of this committee in Lansing he stated, “The power to educate is the power to control.” This is precisely the issue. Who is going to be given the power to control? Is this to be the monopoly of the state or is it to be given to the parents who, in my judgment, have the prior right and duty to control the education of their children? Today parents are being deprived of their right to control the education of their children through the economic coercion of the state. For, to paraphrase Justice Hugo Black, “When the power, prestige, and financial support of the government are placed exclusively behind (one philosophy of education) the economic coercion” on all other philosophies of education is plain. In the field of education the government, in effect says: “Give up your notions that God is important in education, or forfeit your rights to the educational tax dollar.”
All of this is spelled out a little more clearly and concretely in a “Testimony On Equity In Educational Aid” by the Christian Action Group of Western Michigan (Is this a branch of the Christian Action Foundation?). This statement appears in Torch and Trumpet, April, 1969, p. 11. In it we find the following:
We would remind our government, however, that full freedom and equality in education do not yet exist in fact. This problem has been intensified because American society today is both complex and religiously pluralistic. Social complexity has created the need for upgrading and extending compulsory education laws. At the same time, religious pluralism was increasing in both scope and intensity. As a result of these and other factors, the one and only system of education presently supported by government is required by Supreme Court decisions to aim at complete religious neutrality. We question whether education can ever be completely and consistently neutral in its religious values and commitments (only question it? HCH). But it is not our purpose to discuss this point in this statement. For what is absolutely certain is that schools which are required by law to attempt complete religious neutrality are compatible with the religious faith of only some groups of American citizens. Other groups of equally loyal citizens, although they accept and support compulsory education laws as legitimate and necessary, nevertheless cannot commit their children to such schools without denying some of the basic tenets of their religious faith. Such groups of citizens, be they Buddhist, Moslem, Jewish, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, or of some other faith, face a cruel and inequitable dilemma in education today. They must either suffer financial disability in paying the full cost of religiously acceptable education for their own children, or violate their religion and conscience by sending their children to schools which are required by law to aim at complete religious neutrality. This arrangement surely constitutes significant social injustice, and seems also to infringe upon constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion.
The request which follows upon the above statement of position as a conclusion is as follows:
We request, therefore, immediate action by government to ameliorate the present inequities and injustices in education. We ask that quality education be provided on an equitable basis for citizens of all races, religions, and social classes. We reemphasize that legislation to achieve this goal must provide maximum freedom of religion in education and equality of educational opportunity for all groups of citizens.
This conclusion is then explained to mean that public schools and religiously oriented schools must be put on equal footing by the government and must have the same rights and opportunities. Strangely enough, however, in the last paragraph of their statement they do not press for government action to provide equal treatment, but what they call “greater equity.” Now I do not profess to know what “greater equity” might be. To me, equity is equity; and it is a contradiction in terms to speak of degrees of equity. But it appears that this Christian Action Group of Western Michigan means not to press for equality of government support, but only for partial support.
One more brief quotation. This is from an article by Gordon Oosterman, of the National Union of Christian Schools; and it is quoted from Christianity Today, March 28, 1969, p. 7.
The substance of the matter (tax funds for religious education, HCH) is whether our society wishes to have a monolithic system of education, akin to the established church of bygone centuries, or a pluralistic system, as we now have with our churches and press. . . .But when it comes to schools, well, that is different. Everyone gets taxed, but only those whose children attend the public—that is, the state—schools may benefit from their own educational taxes. Like the Dissenters, Baptists, and Covenanters of a former time, taxpayers have the choice of identifying with the favored established institution or making the best of their lot.
Space does not permit an analysis of these statements in this issue. But let me suggest that the reader study these quotations for himself. Analyze them. Take note of the fact that the antithesis receives no mention, even when the opportunity to mention it is very obvious. And ask yourself the question: where are the lines of light versus darkness drawn in these statements?
(to be continued)