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Transatlantic Blog

Crushing religious schools with state funding

The UK government has crafted an educational mandate for religious schools' curriculum that Sohrab Ahmari at Commentary calls “Orwellian.”

Under the proposal, all schools would be required to teach children from age 4 and up “age-appropriate” content that includes information about same-sex marriage and transgenderism. Catholics, evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, and others with traditional views on sex and gender would have to comply. No exceptions.

He notes that a senior government adviser stated it is “not OK for Catholic [or other religious] schools to be homophobic and anti-gay marriage” – although the latter position has been official Catholic dogma since time immemorial.

The European problem is the Canadian problem, as well. Taxpayer-subsidized parochial schools are being coerced to teach a similar curriculum, because Catholic teachings on contraception and gender identity would “attack or hurt others … deny science, deny evidence, and deny human rights,” according to the premier of Alberta.

As transatlantic governments strive to impose national education standards even on religious schools, a different model is on display in the U.S. Betsy DeVos critiqued federal intrusion on local education, a realm properly controlled by local communities – and parents. AEI’s Andy Smarick records:

The Bush and the Obama “approaches had the same Washington ‘experts’ telling educators how to behave.” They operated under the same “false premise: that Washington knows what’s best for educators, parents, and students.” She added that “when it comes to education — and any other issue in public life — those closest to the problem are always better able to solve it.” “The lessons of history,” DeVos concluded, “should force us to admit that federal action has its limits.”

Forcing religious taxpayers to fund the transgression of their consciences should be one such limit. The quality of children’s education, and the authority of parents – which may be said to be “priordial and inalienable” – should not depend on prevailing government ideology.

There are two problems preventing the government from agreeing with such a reasonable statement.

One is the issue of government funding. The UK has 7,000 publicly funded parochial schools, including “48 Jewish, 27 Muslim, 11 Sikh, and five Hindu schools.” Canada’s private schools get 70 percent of their funding from the government. Even as outspoken a proponent of private education as DeVos told Congress, “Schools that receive federal funds must follow federal law. Period.”

There is only one safe road open for religious schools that want to maintain their faith once the government changes hands: Reject all government funding. Taxpayer funding inevitably brings bureaucratic regulation.

The second part of the problem is more fundamental. A recent YouGov poll found that 85 percent of Brits deemed teaching sex and relationship education (SRE) “very important” or “quite important.” The poll ranked sex ed the fifth most important subject in school – behind science but ahead of history, geography, and business studies. Less than half as many said the same of religious education, which ranked fourth from the bottom ahead of drama, classics, and Latin. The disparity may explain why a policy that would crush parental rights is being advanced by members of the Conservative Party.

This poll underscores a stark reality: Only a religious and virtuous people can long maintain a limited government.

(Photo credit: Tedder. This photo has been cropped. CC BY 3.0.)


Rev. Ben Johnson is a senior editor at the Acton Institute. His work focuses on the principles necessary to create a free and virtuous society in the transatlantic sphere (the U.S., Canada, and Europe). He earned his Bachelor of Arts in History summa cum laude from Ohio University and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa.