Public education has survived another National School Choice Week.
Since 2011, National School Choice Week (NSCW) has been celebrated the last week in January. During NSCW “schools, homeschool groups, organizations and individuals plan tens of thousands of independent events” to “raise public awareness of the different K-12 education options available to children and families while also spotlighting the benefits of school choice.” NSCW “recognizes all K-12 options, including traditional public schools, public charter schools, public magnet schools, private schools, online academies, and homeschooling.” NSCW “is a nonpartisan, nonpolitical, independent public awareness effort” that is “not associated with any legislative lobbying or advocacy.”
When most people talk about school choice, they are speaking of education vouchers that allow low-income parents to send their children to the school of their choice — generally private schools where they would otherwise not be able to afford the tuition.
The state of Maryland has such a voucher program. “Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students” was launched in the 2016-17 school year. But after the state recently sifted through the handbooks of nearly 180 schools that participate in the voucher program, it deemed nearly 20 schools ineligible to participate because of discriminatory language in their handbooks regarding same-sex marriage and transgenderism. One such school, Bethel Christian Academy, which espouses traditional Christian beliefs about marriage and sexuality, has filed a lawsuit against Maryland that will be heard in the U.S. District Court for the district of Maryland.
The state views the school’s policy as discriminatory; the school views the state’s policy as infringing its First Amendment right to religious freedom.
Although it has nothing to do with educational vouchers, a lawsuit was recently filed against Fuller Theological Seminary for discrimination by a man and a woman who were expelled for being in same-sex marriages.
Founded in 1947, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, is “one of the world’s most influential evangelical institutions and the largest multidenominational seminary.” It serves “over 3,500 students from 90 countries and 110 denominations.”
The school has a general statement on nondiscrimination:
Fuller Theological Seminary is committed to providing and modeling a learning, working, living, and community environment that is free of unlawful or prohibited discrimination in all of its policies, practices, procedures, and programs. This commitment extends to the seminary’s administration of its educational policies, admissions, employment, educational programs, and activities. In keeping with this commitment, the seminary does not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, disability, age, or protected veteran status.
The school also has a specific statement on sex discrimination:
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) prohibits discrimination based on gender in educational programs that receive federal financial assistance. Programs and activities that may be included are admissions, recruitment, financial aid, academic programs, athletics, housing, and employment. Title IX also protects men and women from unlawful sexual harassment in school programs and activities. Under Title IX, discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual violence, such as rape, and sexual exploitation.
Title IX, section 901(a) reads, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” The Obama administration had interpreted “sex” to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
Fuller also states, “Seven statements of community standards are affirmed by all trustees, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and students of the seminary.” The fourth statement is on sexual standards:
Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried. The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, the seminary expects all members of its community — students, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and trustees — to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.
Nathan Brittsan and Joanna Maxon, who both financed their education at Fuller through federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education, are each seeking more than $1 million in compensation because of their expulsion from Fuller.
“It’s a very important case at this time in our nation’s history,” said Paul Southwick, the plaintiffs’ attorney. “This case could set an important legal precedent that if an educational institution receives federal funding, even if it’s religiously affiliated, even if it’s a seminary, that it’s required to comply with Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination as applied to LGBT individuals.” The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing Fuller.
The controversy between the Christian school in Maryland and the government, and the Christian seminary in California and the government are exactly alike in this respect: both concern religious organizations seeking government funds.
And especially in the case of Fuller, we are talking about millions of dollars in government funds. I note that according to the complaint against the school,
Fuller is the largest recipient of federal funding of any seminary in the United States, having received more than $77,000,000 in federal funding between fiscal years 2015-2018.
The majority of Fuller’s revenues come from student loans funded by the U.S. Department of Education.
What did these schools expect?
He who pays the piper calls the tune.
With government funding there inevitably comes government regulation and control. Religious organizations that accept government funds are naïve and foolish to think that there won’t be or shouldn’t be any strings attached to the receipt of those funds. If religious organizations can’t pay their expenses or carry out their mission without the help of government funds, then they should cut back or close their doors.
Government-funded educational vouchers and government-provided student loans are not only an illegitimate function of government, they are immoral on their face. In both cases, the government — which has no money of its own — takes money from some Americans through compulsory taxation and uses it to pay for the education of other Americans or their children. There is no right to an education at the expense of someone else.
The solution to this controversy over religious organizations that receive government funds is the same as the solution to every other controversy in the United States concerning education: The complete separation of education from the state. The government shouldn’t be involved in education any more than it should be involved in religion.
And not only should there not be any government vouchers or loans, there shouldn’t be any government grants, subsidies, mandates, initiatives, meal programs, standards, accreditation, requirements, schools, or teachers either.