SCA Submits Testimony for House ESEA Hearing
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee held a hearing entitled "Education in the Nation: Examining the Challenges and Opportunities Facing America's Classrooms." Among the anticipated topics were the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the possibility of federally supported voucher programs.
The Secular Coalition for America's Executive Director, Sean Faircloth, submitted the following written testimony to the committee members.
February 10, 2011
Dear Committee Members,
The Secular Coalition for America urges you to omit voucher programs from the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Voucher programs funded by the federal government require every U.S. taxpayer to subsidize private religious schools that are able to violate civil rights laws by discriminating on the basis of faith and proselytize to students who are not given an opt-out option. [i]
Although a narrow majority of the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld vouchers under certain circumstances, the Court did not rule that they were per se constitutional[ii]. One of the most dearly held principles of religious liberty is that the government should not compel any citizen to furnish funds in support of a religion with which he or she disagrees, or even a religion with which he or she does agree.[iii] In the U.S. taxpayer-funded Washington, D.C. voucher program, more than 80 percent of students attend private faith-based schools.[iv] In Arizona, more than 50 percent of taxpayer funds donated under a state assistance scholarship program in 2009 went to students who attended religious schools.[v]
The laws of our government protect students in public schools from many forms of discrimination, including religious. Students lose these guaranteed protections when attending any private school. The purpose of America’s public school system is to provide a secular education. There is no guarantee of the purpose of a private school. Consider these examples of private schools in Washington, D.C. that have received federally funded vouchers.
- Anacostia Christian Bible School (Grades K – 6):"Our purpose is to turn an audience into an army by reconciling them to God by making warriors for Christ and to each other through worship, prayer, preaching, fellowship, and teaching." (www.anacostiabible.org)
- Cornerstone Schools of Washington, D.C., Inc. (Grades K – 6): “God's truth is infused throughout the curriculum and is reinforced in chapel each week, where the students learn important lessons from the Scriptures. These lessons are put into practice in the classroom, on the playground, and in student service projects. Each morning, the school comes alive as students belt out Gospel songs during praise and worship time.” (www.cornerstone-schools.org)
- National Presbyterian School (Grades Pre-K – 6): “The School encourages faith in God and belief in a Judeo-Christian system of values, including respect for God, for others. … These teachings are interwoven throughout the curriculum and the daily life of the School, and more generally articulated in our core values.” (www.nps-dc.org)
Allowing government money to flow to these and other private religious institutions without holding them to non-discrimination laws is a clear violation of one of the central principles of our constitutional order: “The Constitution does not permit the State to aid discrimination.”[vi] Not only may private religious schools have a religious curriculum, they may also discriminate by hiring teachers based on their faith, rather than on their professional qualifications.[vii]
Since 1967, voters in 23 states have rejected voucher proposals and other tax-assistance programs for religious schools. Open and non-discriminatory in their acceptance of all students, American public schools are the unifying factor among the diverse range of ethnic and religious communities in our society. Vouchers undermine this vital function by surrendering the longstanding principle of equal treatment for all, regardless of religion.
U.S. taxpayer money should not fund programs that harm the fundamental civil rights of students and teachers. The Secular Coalition for America urges you to oppose any attempt to fund federal voucher programs.
[i] Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq53e8.html
[ii] Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002).
[iii] Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, 1789.
[iv] U.S. Dept. of Education, Education of the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program: Impacts After Three Years (April 2009).
[vi] Norwood v. Harrison, 413 U.S. 455, 465-66 (1973).
[vii] Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972; U.S. Dept. of Education, Office for Civil Rights, http://www2.ed.gov/about/offices/list/ocr/docs/hq53e8.html