Government control over private religious schools has taken a tremendous leap forward, at least according to some former proponents of Wisconsin's school voucher program. In June the Wisconsin State Supreme Court cleared the way for the much embattled school voucher program to be extended beyond private secular institutions to religious schools as well. Vigorously supported by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson and launched under the auspices of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP), low income parents of children (kindergarten through twelfth grade), desiring to place them in private schools, were issued vouchers for tuition to those schools.
The MPCP, not surprisingly, was immediately challenged in suit by, among others, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin, a branch of the powerful national organization, on the grounds that the program violated first amendment separation of church and state.
The case rose through the court system to be finally declared constitutional by the Wisconsin State Supreme Court. Their decision is currently being appealed to the United States Supreme Court by the ACLU, the NAACP and other plaintiffs.
The WINDS spoke with Christopher Ahmuty, chief counsel and director of the Wisconsin ACLU, as to why his organization opposes the vouchers. He said that the State Supreme Court is "just wrong" in their decision. The voucher program "really is a direct benefit to the religious schools" and thus violates the constitutional guarantees of separation of church and state.
Barbara Miner, Managing Editor of Rethinking Schools, a grass roots publication started and run by teachers and parents, strongly supports DPI's (Department of Public Instruction) position that "once a school received public funds, they would have to agree to abide by [state] non-discrimination laws as well as federal and state constitutional guarantees centered around freedom of speech and due process.
"With the non-sectarian schools this is not a problem. The religious schools, of course, are quite concerned about any sort of interference with their curriculum. They want public dollars but without any strings attached. Does that mean," Miner asks rhetorically, "that they don't have to follow constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and due process?"
This would mean, according to Miner, that if it became known, for example, that a teacher were a supporter of "abortion rights," that the private religious school should not be able to fire that teacher without recourse to "due process" as set forth in the state laws pertaining to public schools?
What is apparently being advocated by the ACLU and Rethinking Schools, et al., is that these private educational institutions should surrender their rights as being private. Would this not be somewhat the same as telling welfare recipients that because they are receiving tax money, they do not have the right, without "due process," to order someone out of their home who is saying or doing something that is offensive to them?--that in doing so they violate the offensive person's freedom of speech? Would that not effectively eliminate the privacy of one's home? Present that scenario in prosecution and try to distinguish between the courtroom and a hornet's nest!
Webster lists "private" as "belonging to oneself, not public or of the state...not open to, intended for, or controlled by the public: as, a private school."[Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 1968.] Black's Law Dictionary, 6th edition, merely states, "Affecting or belonging to private individuals, as distinct from the public generally."
Considering these definitions, it is rather clear that when an outside entity (federal, state--or ACLU) makes decisions as to how a private institution conducts its business, that institution is no longer private, but merely an extension of the will of the invading entity.
The ACLU claims that including private religious schools in the voucher system "will undermine ongoing efforts to improve the Milwaukee Public Schools for all children."
This must cause one to question--should those parents care in the slightest whether their actions "will undermine ongoing efforts to improve the Milwaukee Public Schools for all children?" Should parents be required to mutilate and sacrifice the minds and souls of their own children on the altar of a failed public school system?--just so those schools may have yet another opportunity to possibly, but not likely, improve and help future generations while working out their mistakes on the current generation? Some believe they should--for the sake of the community (spell that "global village").
(There's nothing under the hat--so there must be something up the sleeve.)
Bearing in mind that it has been said a lawyer's job is to present the truth without revealing it, one must again question what is the real agenda that is driving these issues. It almost certainly cannot be constitutional concerns. The clarity of the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision essentially renders the constitutional arguments moot because it harmonizes with virtually every major U.S. Supreme Court decision on the matter.  See Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947).
The ACLU and the government seem intent on laying down a smoke screen to cover the true intent of what they are doing. This is done by such methods as quoting research reports that claim there is no academic difference between state and private schools in how children score in reading, math and science." 
So what? Reading, math and science are not the issue. Parents, for the most part, place their children in private religious schools to insulate them from the major centers of moral decay represented by our public schools. But again, this is not the issue. It is only a diversion from the real one. What is that real one? Who will ultimately have control of education so as to shape the minds of this nation's children?
When it comes, however, to the kingpin of all smoke screens--all diversions from the core truths of an issue, there is one ace in the deck that seems to work every time in this society:
Rethinking Schools' editor Miner asks, "What about desegregation? One of Milwaukee's dirty little secrets," she adds, "is that white parents often use private schools to get around desegregation efforts. In Milwaukee, for example, the public schools are 60% African American. At Divine Savior/Holy Angels and at Pius XI, two prominent Catholic high schools in the city, only 3% of the students are African American. Nor are those figures atypical."
When The WINDS asked if she really thinks that race is the hidden issue rather than parents actually seeking a better education for their children, Ms. Miner responded, "I'm not going to try to read into people's minds and hearts."
Well, there is just no other way to discern "dirty little secrets" than either reading "into people's minds and hearts," or engaging in pure speculation as to their motives. This gives a person the editorial freedom to assign to another's actions whatever motives best suit their purposes.
When pressed as to why she labels the actions of parents as "dirty little secrets," and if she believes those parents are intentionally engaging in "white flight" to segregate their children, this reporter was accused of trying to trap her and was admonished not to put words in her mouth.
Pell Grants are essentially gifts given to undergraduate students to aid in college tuition. It is a well known fact that millions of tax dollars are given annually to the program, among whose recipients include hundreds of Bible colleges and seminaries. So why the contention over a few vouchers for payment of schooling in religious institutions when the government has been doing it on a much larger scale all along? The answers to this question were ominous in what they revealed.
The WINDS asked Ms. Miner her take on Pell Grants and other government funded tuition assistance programs that do precisely what Milwaukee vouchers would accomplish--end up in the coffers of religious educational institutions.
"Generally K-12 education is viewed somewhat differently than post secondary education," she replied; "precisely because of the age of the students. The courts have always viewed K-12 issues through a slightly different lens than they do higher education."
This now begins to approach the core of the apparent reasoning behind the furor over school vouchers. Upon closer scrutiny, it does not seem at all to be based on the Constitution or separation of church and state. It apparently has to do with who will have the final say as to the ultimate influence over the minds of children.
ACLU attorney Chris Ahmuty presented The WINDS with a nearly identical position with that of Barbara Miner. Ahmuty said that "because the student population is older, it is presumably able to distinguish between the money that is being paid for their service in the military on the GI Bill and the endorsement of religious programs."
The WINDS: Isn't the Pell Grant fundamentally different from the GI Bill which is a sort of repayment for military service, whereas the Pell Grant is just that, a grant to needy students--a gift that has not been earned.
ACLU: In any case, it is given to an older student-- not K-12 where the students are more impressionable to evangelization that may be taking place inappropriately, and also might cause the student to somehow believe that the government by giving the money is in some way endorsing the religious program.
Does any primary or high school student ever reason intellectually as to where even the sandwich in the refrigerator came from, let alone the money paying for their education?--let alone attributing that money to a form of an endorsement of religion? Would that politicians thought even that deeply!
The WINDS: So essentially you are saying that the state rather than the parents should make the choice for the younger students because their minds are too impressionable and the parents are incapable of correctly choosing what is best for their children?
ACLU: It tends to be an establishment of religion because you have an impressionable child that may grow up to join that religion or whatever. If you have somebody with a Pell Grant at say Marquette University--well by that time their religious choices have been made.
The WINDS: There is a certain logic in your point, sociologically speaking, but where is the constitutional--the legal--argument?
ACLU:It's an establishment of religion. It's a benefit to the religious institution.
The WINDS:So is a Pell Grant, is it not?
ACLU: No, because there you aren't dealing with children and the evangelization effect, if you will; that sort of benefit doesn't accrue.
The WINDS: So your entire argument rests upon the impressionability of the student, not on the Constitution?
ACLU:No. What distinguishes K-12 vouchers from other types of money that may go to religious institutions for the benefit of disabled students or whatever--but impressionability is what distinguishes it. [emphasis supplied]
Mr. Ahmuty attempted to explain to the non-legal mind of this reporter that because K-12 students are so much more impressionable, school vouchers constitute a state support of religion, and that Pell Grants to college students are not state support of religion because the students are older and not as "evangelizable".
What seems to surface like a poorly disguised Trident submarine is that the agenda driving this legal maelstrom is not questions of constitutionality but, again, who will possess the young minds over which this battle is being fought.
One of the concerns expressed by the ACLU was that students who choose to attend religious schools would be forced to participate in religious activities and be subjected to teachings opposed to the students' particular beliefs which, in their estimation, would amount to state enforcement of religion. You are not supposed to discriminate on the basis of religion. Students are supposed to be able to opt out of any religious activities--even dress codes.
Would this not appear to create a double standard amongst the students? One group must adhere to dress codes and attendance to specified religious activities, while the other is exempt from them--all within the same student body and all based on where the money for their tuition came from. This would clearly create much added tension and division within the institution--but perhaps that is not unintended.
Another and rather obvious question arises out of this reasoning. Why would any parent voluntarily place their child in a religious school whose beliefs and teachings are odious to them? While it is not unusual for those who are not adherents to a particular religion to attend a school operated by a church organization, it is common knowledge that there are certain requirements of attendance to religious functions, such as morning chapel and church services, etc., yet those schools are chosen by non-adherents in the face of such requirements. Where is the ACLU's position on this?
"The ACLU is involved in this case," Ahmuty claims, "because we want to protect religious liberty."
Mr. Ahmuty presented the argument that they have among their plaintiffs many religious educators because they feel, as does the ACLU, that the voucher system is "corrosive of religious liberty--it undermines it. Really strong religious institutions don't need a handout from the government."
There can be little intelligent disagreement with Mr. Ahmuty's last sentence.
The ACLU's stated purposes--to safeguard religious freedom--sounds laudable until, however, one examines the reasoning behind their position.
"Schools would sort of compromise to get the tax dollars," Ahmuty predicts. "They may not really stress religion as much as in the past because they want to have more students, be more attractive so the special quality of what's good about religious education would tend to get homogenized and disappear. It's the power of money that would be corrupting religious values."
It should be noted that all of the ACLU's reasoning is based on pure speculation--not law. The undesirable results to which Mr. Ahmuty alludes would, after all, be a product of free choice just as would the hypothetical welfare recipient's choice to dispose of his state-given income on beer or his children's education. Ultimately, a free society can only remain free if it is willing to grant individual freedoms even if some make choices that will be of actual harm to them.
The ACLU seems to believe that they must be the guardians against a school's tendency toward compromising its spiritual standards. This guardianship would be accomplished, it appears, by imposing ACLU's control over a private institution in matters of curriculum. Of course, this would have to be done obliquely by force of ACLU-sponsored legislation because they believe that the temptation would be much too great toward compromise to allow the institutions to exercise their own choice in the matter. Because those schools would not be able to overcome the temptation to drink more deeply from the taxpayers' bloodstream at the expense of the quality of religious training they offer their students, the ACLU would deny those private institutions the liberty to manage their own affairs because of some supposed temptation to lower their standards. The question does not seem to be whether or not the schools will be controlled, but only who will do the controlling: the government by offering voucher money or the ACLU et al by denying it?
Everybody wants to control. Is it not interesting how such legal and activist organizations take on the same attributes that they condemn in government when it suits their particular agenda?
While the idea of vouchers for religious education appears solidly within the veil of constitutional acceptability, the real Trojan horse in the matter didn't show itself until the program was well under way.
Some religious school voucher advocates are rethinking their position, according to Ahmuty and Miner, because of an alleged 300 pages of performance requirements thrust upon them by the State of Wisconsin.While both the ACLU counsel and editor Miner disagree that there are fully 300 pages of those requirements, they both admit that such requirements exist.
From the foregoing, it does not take a particle physicist to conclude that both the government and the ACLU define freedom OF religion as freedom FROM religion. The apparent intent is neither to protect religion from secular intrusion or to protect the public from religious dominance. Their goals seem clear; the effectual eradication of religion as a moral force within society--to relegate all religions to the scrap heap that in any way would tend to impede government's goal of being a social and moral god to its citizens.
When government gets comfortable with supporting religious schools, it simply means that government sees them as government schools. It would not be supporting them if it didn't. The government would not support anything unless it saw that thing as its own. One will only support something they either see they have control over, desire to gain control over, or that reflects what they already believe. Just because a religious name is on the door, makes no difference--it is still a government school and the first amendment has been gnawed away from within.
Wisconsin, to some degree, will get to dictate what those schools teach and how they teach it. What do they care if a religious name is pasted on the outside? What they want to control is what goes on inside. If one were to paint a church or religious school name on the side of a brothel, would that make its occupants religious or members of the church whose name was used? Obviously not, and, conversely, a religious name on a church-owned building would not change the fact that the curriculum is under the control of the state. If the curriculum is dictated by the state, the school is a state school regardless of the name on the door or the title on the deed. The purpose of a school is to educate. Therefore, if the education being taught is state controlled, what difference does the name make?
Cowbirds have a peculiar and distasteful instinct. They make other birds raise their young. (No. This is not addressing daycare--but it's not a bad analogy). When a cowbird lays its eggs in a robin's nest, the "surrogate" parent does not discern the difference between its own offspring and that surreptitiously thrust upon it. It raises the cowbird as its own. This, however, does not make the cowbird a robin. It will still perpetuate its own species with the same distasteful proclivities. In the same manner as the cowbird, the secular government will now use church schools to educate its offspring. However, in this case the government will also have control over the nest.
Realistically speaking, there now exists the exact opposite of what everyone opposed to vouchers is yelling about. Rather than government subsidizing religious schools, religion will now be subsidizing government schools. Those schools just happen to have a name on their nest that faintly alludes to some former religious belief. When an offering (worm) is placed in the church plate, it may be going to support secular education under the guise of religion. Neat trick and no one saw it coming--except the cowbird.
As asserted in a previous WINDS article, it seems to make the best logic that the church and the state should be totally invisible to each other. The state, which receives revenue from taxpayers, should take nothing from the churches, and the churches which claim to be an organization of faith supported by God, should request nothing of the state. Mr. Ahmuty spoke rightly when he said, "Really strong religious institutions don't need a handout from the government."
With the Wisconsin State Supreme Court's decision so clearly set forth that even non legal-minded laymen can understand that there is no direct support or promotion of religion inherent to the voucher system, one must logically wonder what the real purposes are that organizations like the ACLU so strenuously oppose vouchers. It certainly stretches credibility to ascribe to them a genuineness of motive in their expressed purpose of separation of church and state. Do they have an agenda to preserve public schools even with the system's extraordinary depth of evil that has become intrinsic to government-run education?
Then there is the possibility that the "beast" knows that it has significantly less control over shaping the minds of children when they are placed in private, especially religious, institutions. But as long as those private institutions are allowed to exist, the state may reason, why not create a way to exercise control over them? State influence and control over the minds of the children and youth was a central theme in the ideology of Germany's National Socialist Party just prior to WWII.
It is never primarily the present generation in which agents of change seek to embody their tenets. It is always the children that are the targets of their agendas, for one very seldom departs from the context of their basic education. Is that not what the ACLU's Christopher Ahmuty implied in defending the difference between vouchers and post-secondary educational grants? Vouchers, Ahmuty said, tend "to be an establishment of religion because you have an impressionable child that may grow up to join that religion...impressionability is what distinguishes" the difference between the two. "Establishment of religion" takes on an whole new meaning when these people view it as establishing religion in young minds.
An experienced fly fisherman once told this reporter that he would always stand in the river or lake awhile to see what manner of insect to which the fish were attracted that day, and then hand-tie one to match. He claimed to have caught many fish in this manner, he said. Milwaukee's Parental Choice Program has taken on the appearance of cleverly disguised and tailored bait by which government can gain control of even private religious schools, their administration and curriculum and, thereby, the minds of their students. It is legal and constitutional bait, but bait nonetheless.
The ominous aspect of the Wisconsin case is that the rest of the nation is closely observing the results of their supreme court decision. This means that a large portion of those "mini-feds" called states will likely tailor their own lures accordingly. This should also serve to illustrate that receiving any handout from government is seldom wise if one values their freedom.
FURTHER LEGAL REFERENCE:
Full voucher decision of The Supreme Court of Wisconsin,Case No. 97-0270
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