July 26, 2023

Kate Cohen: Taxpayers shouldn’t be paying for religious schools

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Kate Cohen is a contributing columnist for the Washington Post.

The Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board’s recent decision to allow a Catholic archdiocese to operate a public school is both illegal and unconstitutional.

I’m not exaggerating — I’m just reading.

A charter school “shall be nonsectarian in its programs, admission policies, employment practices, and all other operations,” Oklahoma law states.

Public schools “shall be open to all the children of the state and free from sectarian control,” the Oklahoma constitution declares.

Publicly funding a Catholic school so clearly flouts both of these provisions that the state attorney general, Republican Gentner Drummond, accused board members who voted to do so of violating their oath of office and promised to take legal action once a contract with the school is signed.

But this latest move is just the most recent piece of a long effort to bring religion–specifically Christianity–into taxpayer-funded schools.

Now, indirect state funding of religious schools is on the rise across the country. Direct funding — as in Oklahoma — is the next step.

So: What’s wrong with that?

Proponents of using public funds for religious education argue that the government doesn’t thereby favor any particular religion or even religion in general — it simply lets parents choose. Religious freedom, right?

Well, as Drummond said in an interview on Tulsa public radio: “The day will turn where we’re gonna get applicants from maybe a fringe Islamic group that says, ‘We want to teach sharia law and to only young men, and we want to indoctrinate them …’ which would be anathema to a lot of Oklahomans. Or a satanic organization that says, ‘We want state funding so that we can teach the attributes of Satan.’”

But as Cohen points out, it’s not just a slippery slope problem. It’s a taxpayer-subsidized discrimination problem.

Because our nation persistently defers to religion, we have given religious institutions, including parochial schools, the right to ignore anti-discrimination laws and employment protections. They can expel students for being gay and fire teachers for getting sick. They can decline to offer admittance to transgender students and reproductive health care to their employees. Actions that would be illegal in secular settings are fine under the guise of sincerely held religious belief.

In other words, when the government funds religious education, it is often underwriting the very discrimination it has banned.

Read the full piece here. 

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