Let parents have full choice of schools, religious or not - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Let parents have full choice of schools, religious or not

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Posted: Sunday, December 19, 2004 7:33 am | Updated: 4:32 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Whether you call this the Christmas season, the holiday season or simply the winter solstice, there’s no denying the clash over church-and-state issues has become deafening.

Many Christians are irate over moves to purge "Christ" from Christmas in the public sphere. And then there’s the federal lawsuit filed last week by the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for Separation of Church and State to prohibit the teaching of "intelligent design" theory as an alternative to evolution in Dover, Pa., public schools.

Well, before this escalates into full-scale religious warfare, we’d like to make a simple suggestion that would go a long way toward defusing this conflict: Pare down the public sphere.

The astronomical growth of government at every level not only literally taxes us in the pocketbook, it is robbing us of our precious individual liberty. Sadly, in a nation founded on the libertarian principle that government should be "by, for and of the people," we have allowed ourselves to become subservient to the state. Education is a prime example.

While polls show most parents favor alternative theories to evolution being taught in their children’s schools, few public educators are willing to provoke the litigious wrath of the ACLU; so they stick to evolution theory. The Dover, Pa., schools dared overstep the line drawn by the ACLU and now faces a high-profile federal lawsuit.

The ACLU says pure science alone must be taught in public schools and that the "intelligent design" theory is really religion in disguise and must be banned from public schools. The Dover school board sided with parents, who point out that evolution falls short of fully explaining the origins of the universe and human life and insist their children be taught the "intelligent design" theory, which at the least leaves the door open to religious faith.

That argument doesn’t strike us as particularly egregious; no one’s trying to establish a "state religion" here. It seems all the more reasonable in light of the recent admission by one of the world’s most renowned atheist philosophers, Britain’s Antony Flew, that he has come to embrace the intelligent-design concept.

Flew, 81, who has taught at Oxford, Aberdeen, Keele and Reading universities and is best known internationally for his 1950 treatise, "Theology and Falsification," earlier this month released a video in which he says the creator of the universe "could be a person in the sense of a being that has intelligence and a purpose, I suppose."

So who’s right: the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or the Dover school board and former atheist Flew? Well, we don’t pretend to know, and we sure don’t think our nation’s Founders intended our courts to decide such things.

Ultimately, it is up to each and every American to decide for themselves. That is our birthright as free Americans. Yet we are maddeningly constrained in our ability to fully exercise that freedom. That is due to barriers to school choice, thanks largely and hypocritically to the ACLU, which has taken the wrong side of one of today’s most important individual-liberty issues: affording parents more freedom to choose where and how they want their children educated.

Parents who want their children’s school to reinforce — and at least not undermine — religious beliefs taught in the home and church should join the growing movement that is demanding our elected officials expand school choice. Arizona has made more progress in that regard that most other states, but much more needs to be done.

Arizona parents who want to send their children to religious schools but aren’t wealthy may, if they are lucky, get a scholarship thanks to the state’s private school tuition tax credit. Expansion of the tax credit by the Legislature to corporations that contribute to scholarship organizations would help. But it still wouldn’t as fully empower parents as a voucher system, which the Legislature should enact.

Parental choice vouchers are really about trusting parents to act in the best interests of their children. And such free agency is really what civil liberties are all about — or should be all about. If the ACLU were really a champion of civil liberties, and not the public school establishment, then it would shift its litigious zeal from fighting "intelligent design" theory in Pennsylvania to championing civil liberties throughout the land in the form of school choice.

But don’t hold your breath, parents. This is a battle you’ll probably have to fight on your own. A good place to start would be calling your state legislators and demanding you be granted the freedom that every American deserves to send your children to the school of your choice.

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