Should Religion be Allowed in Public Schools?
We’ve all heard the arguments. Religion does not belong in publicly funded schools. That would be a violation of the separation of church and state right?! Where I live, in Canada, there are three provinces that give constitutional status to what are called separate schools. Now these are schools that reflect the doctrines of a particular faith which is usually Catholicism. This state of things is strongly opposed by long-standing organized groups who want to promote a single secular school system. Even though my family home schools, I’m a big supporter of separate schools and diversity in education options. the fact is, not all people are the same. We come with different instincts, different learning goals, different values, and different spiritual beliefs. Wouldn’t it make sense to have different options that better reflect the priorities of parents and families for their children? But what about separation of church and state? Well in Canada, that doesn’t exist, so that’s not really an argument. Separation of Church and State isn’t mentioned anywhere in our Constitution and in fact our, Head of State, the Queen is also the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. It also doesn’t appear in the US Constitution, the Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence. Where it does appear is in Article 13 of the Constitution of the Soviet Union along with the Separation of Church and, you guessed it, schools. So if that’s where we want to draw our inspiration from then okay but we should be clear about where it’s coming from. Now you might be objecting, “If the government supports an education system that upholds certain religious beliefs, doesn’t that seem like an endorsement of those religious beliefs?” I would say not necessarily. The government can support all kinds of organizations and institutions without it being seen as an endorsement of a particular culture or religion to the exclusion of all others. For example Yoga is really popular and I’ve seen Yoga themed events that were sponsored by municipalities. Now, I didn’t see that as the establishment of Hinduism as some sort of official religion. Freedom of Religion exists to ensure that the state doesn’t establish or impose any official religion. That doesn’t mean that a sitting government can’t show support for some religious beliefs or practices. We seem to have a deeply ingrained double standard when it comes to freedom of religion. Think about what that means. A freedom is something that should be as unrestricted as possible. The law, the government, and other citizens have no right to restrict its use. Now to illustrate this point imagine if we treated other freedoms the way we do religion. “Yeah you have freedom of speech but not for public places; that’s for private use only. No freedom of speech in schools either that would imply that the government somehow favors particular expressions of freedom of speech; and absolutely no freedom of speech in government.” Those are clearly examples of a freedom being restricted not protected so when secularists insists on imposing those same kinds of restrictions on freedom of religion in the name of tolerance and diversity, I kind of scratch my head. It just doesn’t make any sense. You’re not protecting freedom of religion, you’re suppressing it in favor of some sort of oppressive atheistic political correctness. True multiculturalism and diversity exists when we offer opportunities for different cultural and religious persuasions to be seen, heard, and celebrated as fundamental fixtures of society. Instead we’ve succumbed to this idea that they should be absent from public life for fear that someone will get offended or feel discriminated against. Ironically, that only promotes the idea that we should get offended by the religious expressions of others because we’ve established this precedent that it doesn’t belong in the public space, so if I see it there then I should get offended. So seeing how freedom of religion doesn’t preclude the government from supporting religious organizations in the same way that it can support organizations that prefer certain kinds of thought or speech, then it still doesn’t answer why the Catholic Church should be given so much freedom in education. Well there are a lot of reasons I could point to but for starters the Catholic Church, as an institution, has been educating people longer than anyone else, going all the way back to the monastic schools of the Middle Ages. The Catholic Church also established the first universities which were fundamental in shaping all the things we take for granted in academics and science today. That makes it something of an expert in education. That should also make us reflect on why they were so eager to sacrifice resources in the name of this cause when nobody else would. Maybe something in the Catholic belief system is intrinsically focused on education thereby making it a natural ally in the pursuit of public education. If you read about the history of Alberta, which is the province that I live in, you’ll read about fur traders, whiskey traders, ranchers, bison hunters, and the struggle to take whatever could be found in this new frontier. What you hear less of is the people who came here with different intentions. They were the ones who had no ambitions on the region’s resources. They had no aspirations for wealth or glory. They were the Catholic Oblate Missionaries and the Grey Nuns. They came here with little resources and traveled here often by foot through the harsh and hostile wilderness to set themselves to the work of establishing the first hospitals, schools, orphanages, and missions. While everyone else was spellbound by the prospect of wealth and opportunity, they were doing the hard work of building up the necessary pillars of civilization. Think about that! Something in Catholicism compels its adherence to establish schools and hospitals when there are none to be found. The fruits of that hard and thankless work is what we take for granted today in a stable and prosperous. society. So when aggressive secularists show up and say that the Catholic Church should be expelled from the education system they helped establish, I tend to disagree. Anybody can show up after the hard work has been done and inherit it without saying thank you but to go a step further than that and to try to expel the religious convictions that were the very reason that anybody thought that educating the public was a worthy calling in the first place… well that’s just out of line and frankly it’s ignorant. We as a society should show appreciation for the things we have by honoring the institutions and the people who gave them to us before we ever even thought to seek them for ourselves.