Separation of Family and State

In the current debate on school taxes, much is made of the principle of separation of church and state. This is a sound, Biblical principle, proved by American history to be salutary for our nation. It must be maintained at all costs.

But equally fundamental is the similar principle of separation of family and stale. Just as the state should not interfere in the ecclesiastical sphere nor the church in governmental duties, so there should he a wall of separation between the family and the state. The family unit should not attempt to take over the governmental duties: for example, the collection of taxes, the supervision of traffic regulations, and the administration at city ball. Nor should the government (whether city. state, or federal) attempt to perform any family functions, such as feeding or clothing the children, choosing a house for the family, planning the family’s free time, or educating the children.

When there is a climbing over these walls of separation by either party—church or family or state—then totalitarianism results. From the standpoint of liberty, therefore, one principle is as significant as the other. In the present dialogue on school taxes there has been evidenced the danger of neglecting the wall between the family and state while emphasizing the wall between church and state. This principle of the separation of family and state as it applies to the field of education is the subject of this article.


The first thesis to be established is that education is primarily the responsibility of the parents and not of the state. Cod gave the children to the parents and not to the state. The Bible commands the parents and not the state to train their children. The state has no Biblical or natural right to demand that children be educated in state schools in a state way. Such a demand would be totalitarianism, the infringement by the state on the sovereign, educational rights of the parents. Fortunately, the United States Supreme Court has firmly recognized this principle when, in the Oregon case of 1925, it stated that “the fundamental theory of liberty…excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only. The child is not the mere creature of the state; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations” (Pierce v. Society of Sisters).


If this is a Biblical principle, then the question may be asked: Has the state a right to enter into the parental field of education and set up as a norm for all children a type of education that by the interpretations of the Supreme Court must have a curriculum that is Bible-less, Christ-less, and God-less? Further, may the state then compel all parents either to send their children to these Bible-less schools, even if it is against their conscience, or to forfeit their school taxes and to pay a second time for an education according to their convictions?

If education were a neutral something, like city streets or traffic lights, possibly a case could be made for the state’s adopting one kind of philosophy of education as the norm for all. But education surely is more than the conveyance of factual knowledge. It implies also the training of the powers of interpretation and judgment in the perspective of a faith or a philosophy of life. Even the conveyance of factual knowledge is based on certain religious presuppositions.

If most Americans do not think that education is always religiously oriented, it should be possible for them to recognize the fact that millions of Americans do believe so and have religious scruples against both supporting by taxes and sending their children to what they deem are God-less public schools. The question is not whether the public school curriculum is either “neutral” or blatantly agnostic, secularistic, and implicitly non-Christian; but whether some think it is so or not. Rightly or wrongly, millions of American parents do have religious scruples against supporting the public schools either by money or by sending their children to them. One may disagree with them, hut one cannot ignore the fact of their convictions. Neither can we ignore the fact of their right to train their children according to their religious convictions. When this fact of separation of family and state is honored, will the state compel some parents, after they have voluntarily paid for an education in accord with their religious convictions, to pay a second time for an education that they honestly believe is diametrically opposed to their religion? Should it not, rather, recognize the principle of separation of family and state; and, while having a duty to see to it that all are educated, should it not allow parents to pay only once for the education of their own choice in accord with their own religious convictions?



What is being suggested here is not that the private schools be given a free financial ride; but rather that the public schools not be given a free ride. If parents want a so-called “neutral,” Christ-less, Bible-less public school education, we believe that they should be allowed to educate their children according to their convictions. But then they should be required to pay for it. Likewise, if parents want a religiously oriented education, they should be required to pay for it, as they do today. But the state should not compel them, in addition, to subsidize partly the public school system which they think is against their God, religion, and conscience.

As to how these principles should be worked out, there may be some question. Several plans have been advanced, none of which is perfect. But surely among 185,000,000 Americans noted for their sharp Yankee ingenuity, there must be some who can come up with a solution that will satisfy the principle of separation of family and state, which is just as fundamental a liberty as the principle of separation of church and state.

The historical examples found in both the United States and many European countries offer some suggested solutions: there might be a tax rebate to alI parents with children in elementary and secondary schools; or the taxpayers might indicate on their income tax form to what school they want their taxes to apply; or the state might return the school taxes to all the schools, regardless of race, color, or creed, proportionate to the number of students in the schools. We are not convinced that there is anyone pat answer to the problem. But we now suggest one plan that bas much merit. And we present it because it will help to focus our attention on the advantages and objections to a revision of our present allocation of school taxes.


The proposal is the aid-to-the-student plan. modeled after the G. I. Bill of Rights. It would give the school money to all school children (not to institutions) regardless of their religious convictions and allow them to go to the school of their convictions. Thus the C. I. Bill of Rights does not discriminate against a veteran because he desires a Lutheran or Calvinistic or Methodist Or atheistic education. Generally speaking, this is the “scholar-incentive” plan proposed by Governor Rockefeller, passed overwhelmingly by the New York legislature last spring, and now in operation. This plan gives financial aid in the amount of hundreds of dollars to college students without requiring them to go to the state schools. It is similar to the plan on which the New York Regents Scholarships have operated for years.

On our proposed plan, taxes would be collected from all citizens as they are today. The present American system according to which even non-parents have a responsibility to see to it that there is an educated citizenry is a sound one.

There would have to be constitutional guarantees that the schools wowd be permitted complete freedom of operation, selection of teachers, choice of courses, and the like. The state, of course, would continue its present-day supervision of private schools in such areas as safety, health, and scholarship.

The one and only difference in the whole proposal would be that the public schools would no longer be subsidized by the adherents of independent schools.


1. Separation of Family and State

One of the greatest advantages would be that the government would not mingle in the parental realm of education. It would allow the parents to choose the kind of religiously or secularly oriented education that they feel duty bound to give without their being penalized financially.

If there should be parents who would neglect their God-imposed duty of educating their children, then the government would have to step in and see to it that the children are educated. But then the government would not reward them for the neglect of their duty by requiring the others to help pay for their education through taxes. Instead, while providing public schools for them, it would require that they should also pay for such schools.

2. The American System of Non-Discrimination

Taxes would be collected from all and then distributed to all, regardless of race, color, or creed. No discrimination would be exercised because someone desired a religious education. No one would be penalized financially by the government for his religious convictions. Some who oppose this plan believe that now no one is being penalized for religion. For, they reason, the public schools are open to all. and if any want a different education, they are free to have it, but then they must pay for it. But it should be observed that although the schools are open to all, many Protestants and Roman Catholics as well as Jews feel before God that it is not God’s will for them to use secularized education. Therefore they are paying for the education according to their own convictions. For the state to require of them to pay in addition for an education that before God they cannot use is to penalize them hundreds of dollars a year for their religious convictions.

3. Freedom of Educational Choice

It is technically true that parents have the freedom to send their children to any school of their choice (Oregon case of 1925). But in actuality many people, either because of unemployment or low income, are not free to use the schools of their religious preference. Many parents in the National Union of Christian Schools system. for example. are required to spend $500 to $1,000 a year for the education of their children, after they have already paid once for education through taxes. Many others cannot afford to do this. So, in actuality, they do not have their freedom. But if their own present tax: money were given for the education of their own school children, they would have complete freedom of choice.

4. The Problem of Religion in the Public Schools

Because of the religious diversity of the students in the schools today, our present system will always be plagued by the problem of religion in the curriculum. If the schools teach Judaism, then the Christians will be offended. If they teach Protestantism, then Rome will be hurt. If they teach. Romanism. Presbyterianism, Lutheranism, or Mormonism, then the people of other religious persuasions will he offended. And if they do not teach anything at all, then those who want religion will object. As long as we attempt to impose one philosophy of education on a pluralistic society, someone will be hurt. A far better way would be to admit frankly that America is a pluralistic society, to collect taxes from all, and then let each have his own school money for the school of his own choice. In this way no one’s religious convictions would be trampled on.

5. Freedom from Stale Thought-Control

If applied to the field of higher education, this plan would be a great asset to academic freedom on that level. We mention college training especially because the state has a strangle~hold on higher education. Originally, higher education was almost entirely in private hands. Gradually, however, the state has taken over. Ten years ago more than half of the state college students were found in private colleges. Today 40% are there, the other 60% being in state universities. Some experts predict that this trend will increase to a 25%–75% ratio. Except for a few wealthy institutions, private colleges and universities cannot begin to compete with the unlimited state resources that can attract the better faculty because of better salaries and that can pour millions into one university for research projects. The gradual disappearance of the independent college means the gradual loss of academic freedom. But the aid-to-the-student plan would help the independent schools to stay in existence.

6. Higher Scholastic Standards

It is for the welfare of the nation as a whole that America has not only secularistically well-trained citizens, but that the religiously trained should be of a high scholastic caliber, too. This plan would enable the independent schools to have as much equipment and as good salaries for the faculty as the state ones. Instead of Christian schools having to take over abandoned public school buildings while the public schools operate in comparative luxury, the Christian schools would be able to have the same salary scale and physical facilities as the public schools. Well-trained religious scholars are as important for the welfare of the nation as well-trained secularistic ones.


There are some objections that are being currently raised to this plan;

1. This plan would cause people who are not for religious schools to pay for religious instruction that is against their religious beliefs.

Answer: “Public support” of education is a misnomer if it conveys the idea that the public which does not want religious education will be taxed for it. The “public” in the sense of public school adherents will not be forced to pay—for an educational system against their convictions. Because the school taxes would be given to the child, the public school adherents would be paying only for their type of education, and the independent school adherents would he paying only for their type of education. No one is given a free financial ride (not even the public schools!), but each pays his own way.

If this objection is really weighty, then let us ponder the fact that right now the present system is forcing people to support a public school philosophy of education which they consider to be without God, that is, God-less. These people have their rights in this matter just as well as the public school adherents.

2. This plan would destroy the public school system by allowing the over 250 denominations in America to have their own schools.

Answer: Two hundred and fifty denominations do not want their own schools. The United Presbyterian Church, for example, reversing its position of a hundred years ago, took a firm stand in 1957 for public schools. The constituents of the majority of denominations want precisely the kind of education that the public schools are now giving and would want to continue them.

Some safeguard, however, would have to be initiated to prevent wasteful proliferation. The Netherlands has worked out a system whereby in cities of fewer than 100,000 population there must be at least fifty students in a school; and in larger cities there must be 125. Furthermore, a substantial sum of money must be deposited with the government at the beginning of any new school. This money is forfeited if the school is not in existence twenty years after its start. If, at the end of twenty years the school still is in operation, then the money plus interest is returned.

3. This plan would destroy the unifying melting-pot of the public schools whereby the children of different religions and cultures are molded into the American way of life.

Answer: To a certain extent this would be true. But it must be remembered that the United States does not have today the vast influx of immigrants that it had in the last century. Therefore, there is not the need for the melting-pot today which some think was once necessary.

Moreover, do we really desire a monolithic structure of state education whereby an undifferentiated mass of secularized minds is turned out on an assembly line? Is not one of the beauties and strengths of America its pluralism, its rich diversity in cultures and religion? Is not a source of its greatness the fact that America is made up of Norwegians, Dutch, Irish, French, Scotch, Germans, English and the like, all of whom can contribute their distinctive heritages and skills to America?

But the basic question is this: Are we going to sacrifice the sanctity of the principle of separation of family and state for a melting-pot? Are not the parental rights more hallowed than the concept of a state uniformitarian education?

4. This plan would aid the Roman Catholics.

Answer: There is no doubt that the Roman Catholics along with the Protestants would be aided by this plan. But the Roman Catholic has his constitutional rights, too. The principle of the separation of family and state applies to him as well as to the secularists. The Roman Catholic as well as any American should have the right to pay for the kind of education that he wants without having to pay in addition for a religious system that he opposes.

5. This plan would be a violation of the principle of reparation of church and state, for aid would be given indirectly to religious institutions.

Answer: It is noteworthy that the G. I. Bill of Rights has never been even remotely challenged as to its constitutionality, although scores of thousands of its recipients have gone to Jesuit, Lutheran, Reformed, and other denominational institutions. Neither have the New York Regents Scholarships been questioned. And the recently passed “scholar-incentive” plan of New York State, although not yet tested in the courts, was declared by the New York Council of Churches as being not unconstitutional.

6. Will not tile state control the private schools?

Answer: Theoretically, there is no need to have government interference beyond the present supervision, such as in school safety and teacher and curriculum qualification. Strong guarantees have to be written into the constitution to prevent any interference. The schools should be guaranteed their freedom to operate exactly as they are doing now under the G. I. Bill. Historically speaking, it is worthy of note that in Britain there is no state interference with the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and other schools that receive 75% of their finances from the state. In the Netherlands there is not an iota of meddling. Neither is there in Norway, Sweden, Ireland, West Germany, Belgium, and certain provinces in Canada, to mention only some of the historical examples which guarantee the principle of separation of family and state.

In conclusion, whether the aid-to-the-student plan is best or not, we simply suggest in this article that some means should be devised whereby parents would be enabled to educate their children according to the dictates of their own conscience without having, in addition, to pay for the education of someone else’s children, an education which they consider to be against their God, religion, and conscience. Such a means would help to safeguard the wall of separation between the family and the state.