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Barry Lynn called the US Supreme Court’s 27 June decision to uphold Cleveland’s program of school vouchers ‘The worst church-state decision in the past 50 years’
“The worst church-state decision in the past 50 years”-this is what Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called the US Supreme Court’s 27 June decision to uphold Cleveland’s program of school vouchers. Many political conservatives, on the other hand, are ecstatic about the prospect of giving parents more choice in the education of their children.
The controversial “voucher” program in Cleveland gives low-income parents up to $2,250 per child, which they can use to send their children to schools-including private Christian schools-that are performing better than their inner-city public schools. Lynn believes that the program violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment, which bars the federal government from the “establishment of religion.”
But most conservatives-and the majority of US justices-disagree with Lynn. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice Rehnquist concluded, “No reasonable observer would think a neutral program of private choice, where state aid reaches religious schools solely as a result of the numerous independent decisions of private individuals, carries with it the imprimatur of government endorsement.”
Will this landmark decision help to stop the slide in American education and society? At the moment, voucher programs are limited to Cleveland, Milwaukee and Florida, but this decision is expected to dramatically boost “parental choice” efforts around the nation. It should also reinvigorate proposals to give parents tax credits (money back on income taxes) to help cover the costs of private education.
The prospects have excited many Christian schools and parents. For decades, parents who send their children to Christian schools have paid for their education twice-once through taxes for government schools, and once through tuition payments for their private Christian school. The new decision could reverse some of the inequity, and it could prove a great boon to Christian schools, as hordes of new students-vouchers in hand-seek seats in their classrooms.
Unfortunately, political solutions to social problems rarely live up to their promise, and this new development is likely to be no different. The Supreme Court decision has simply transferred the battle in America from the courtroom to legislatures. Even after lawmakers craft new bills, they are sure to be challenged in court (unless the bills follow the exact language and limited scope of the Cleveland experiment, which they surely won’t).
But there are some even greater concerns. The first and most obvious is the danger of states” using their “gifts” of money as an excuse to regulate private schools. Critics have plenty of historical precedent to support their concern. Will states begin to review and approve Christian textbooks? Will states begin to regulate hiring policies for private schools that accept vouchers? Will states require Christian teachers to meet their secular education standards-including the teaching of evolution as fact? (Other Western countries may have differing socio-politico-legal frameworks, but these sorts of questions are often relevant there as well, albeit in other contexts.)
Answers in Genesis wants to help! Answers in Genesis sympathizes with the plight of Christian parents everywhere-whether their children are struggling with secular classes or the parents are trying to pay the cost of private Christian education. We would like them to have every opportunity to train up their children as God directs them. Yet it seems prudent to be wary of leaning on “the staff of Egypt,” lest it pierce the hand that leans on it (see Isaiah 36:6).
Our ministry’s mandate does not focus on political maneuvers, but the clear and bold proclamation of the authority of God’s Word. No matter which direction the political winds blow in whatever part of the world, we believe our part is to provide God’s people and God’s church with challenging, practical materials that will help believers to combat the crafty devices of the “evil one,” and that will challenge them to continue to stand true to God’s Word.
As a bedrock to AiG’s mission, we provide books, audiotapes, videos and speakers that help equip churches and parents to fulfill their mission: preaching the Gospel and edifying the saints. Some of our education materials include: