What about “Parochiaid”?

The matter of public funds for private and parochial schools is one of the most controversial issues that face both the legislatures of our nation and the people within this nation. Indeed. every citizen has taken upon himself the responsibility to speak on this subject as is evident from the letters to the editor in many of our leading newspapers. Since this is a topic that is not only currently before us, but because it also is one that directly bears upon our relationship as Christians to the government, it is well that we consider something of the nature of the proposal and its implications.

At the present time there is before the House of Representatives in the Michigan legislature a “Parochiaid” bill, House Bill 2424. Since this bill concerns me as a citizen of Michigan, as a supporter of our local Christian Schools, and as a parent of children attending the Christian Schools, I wish to deal briefly with this particular bill. Perhaps it is similar to what is being proposed in other states throughout the United States. At any rate there are many fellow Christians who are in precisely the same position as I, both in terms of geographical location and allegiance to Christian Schools.

The purpose of this bill is stated at the very beginning. It goes as follows: “Because the maximum development and utilization of the natural talents, skills and intellectual resources of our youth through quality educational opportunities in the fields of mathematics, science, modern foreign languages, English, humanities, social sciences, physical education and other courses of instruction are vital to lhe continuing general welfare and security of the people of this state and the nation, it has been the long established policy of this state that all children be furnished an education and encouraged in the pursuit of knowledge so that as mature and educated citizens they can understand and intelligently act upon the public questions awaiting solution by adult citizens and to contribute to the safety, civil and economic well-being of the people of this state. The legislature finds that large numbers of children attend nonpublic schools, the majority of which are church related and that such church related non-public schools pursue the goals of religious and secular education. The legislature finds that because public good and the general welfare of the people of this state and the interest of the state in the quality education of all children require that state aid to provide opportunities for a quality secular education be furnished for the benefit of all children and as part of a general program to promote knowledge, state aid presently being appropriated to school districts for the educational bene6t of children attending public elementary and secondary schools in this state be extended for the educational benefit of pupils attending nonpublic elementary and secondary schools in this state, to provide opportunity for a quality education in courses of instruction in subject matter and other educational services comparable to those being offered in the public schools to children of like age and grade.”

This lengthy quotation explains clearly the purpose and the proposal of the current bill that faces the House of Representatives in the State of Michigan. There are several things that stand out in this statement. First of all, the purpose of education is presented. It is “the public good and the general welfare of the people of this state.” Now this purpose is certainly true of the public school system in America. The highest good as far as the public school is concerned is the general welfare, the general good of all men. In fact, the “religion” that underlies the public school and is daily proclaimed in every subject is precisely this. Although this is indeed the philosophical basis of the public school, we have always steadfastly denied that it is the basis of Christian education. In fact quite the opposite is the case in our Christian Schools. The basis of the Christian education that our children receive is the Christian religion. More particularly, it is the Bible as the inspired Word of God which is the underlying basis for all that is taught there. Now these two purposes, that of the public school and that of the Christian School, are antithetical. They are as different as day is from night. The one presents man as the highest good, while the other maintains that Cod is the source of our knowledge and the direction of our education. Since these two are indeed antithetical, it is bound to be the death of one system or the other if either of these is no longer maintained. If, for example, the public school changes its purpose from one of the general welfare of all men, to the glory of God, then it is obvious that it becomes, at least in principle, a Christian School. And if the Christian School changes its purpose from educating the children to the glory of God, to a purpose that reaches only to the general welfare of man, then it becomes at least in principle, a public school. No one who supports the purpose of Christian education would ever actively and knowingly promote such a change.

And yet the striking thing about the bill before our attention is that it will make that change for us. House Bill 2424 stipulates that since all education in the State of Michigan has as its purpose the general welfare of mankind, then it follows that all education should be equally subsidized by the state. The very basis for the proposal that parochial and private schools ought to receive state aid, is that the purpose of these schools is precisely the same as that of public schools. In other words, what we as committed Christian parents would never knowingly and actively promote, namely changing the purpose of education from the glory of God as the highest good to the general welfare of mankind as the highest good, this bill very nicely does for us. And that not as a by-product of the bill, but rather as the very essence of it. This sort of change I for one cannot accept.

A second thing that stands out in the statement of purpose and proposal in this bill is the emphasis upon those fields of study which will be subsidized. The bill provides for funds to be given to parochial and private schools for the teaching of those “secular” subjects which especially will meet the purpose of the education itself. Now these subjects are not only defined precisely as to what they are; they are also carefully defined as to what they are not. They are precisely the same as that taught in the public schools and they are not religious education; they are rather secular education. They are, says the bill, exactly the same as the education that is received in the public schools. Therefore, the bill argues, since the same courses of study are presented in the public schools as are being taught in the private and parochial schools, it follows that the state ought to pay for both. The argument from the negative side, as to what these courses of study are not, is equally logical. It states that these courses are not religious in nature, but secular, exactly as they are in the public school. Therefore, since the public school receives subsidy for teaching secular courses, it follows that the parochial and private schools ought also to be subsidized for teaching secular courses of study. Now these arguments are indeed convincing if we could accept the basic premise that is presented. The premise is that the courses of study are the same in both the public school and the parochial and private schools. The problem with this premise is, of course, that we as Christian School parents and supporters have always maintained that the courses of study are not the same. Indeed, if the argument of the bill is true, that these are the same, then former Governor Romney was correct when he suggested that everyone should receive secular education at the hands of the state in the public schools, and allow the churches to teach the religious courses of study. But we all rose up in indignation against the Governor’s proposal precisely because we were convinced that the courses are not taught the same way in both systems of education. We were convinced that there is no separation between what is secular and what is religious. We believed that everything that is taught in the Christian school, whether it be mathematics or science, is religious at the very core. If we still maintain that, and I certainly do, then we cannot support a bill which states in its very premise that the courses of study are in fact the same in the public school and in the Christian school. For if that were the case, then we have been wasting a lot of money by maintaining separate schools.

However, it may be that this is merely a semantic problem. It may be that the word “‘secular” is used by the bill in an ignorant, naive way. Perhaps the authors of this bill had no knowledge of the fact that Christian schools, at any rate, do maintain that all that is taught is religious, and that nothing is secular. Could we perhaps accept the argument of this bill and the money that it proposed if we give to the authors the benefit of the doubt on this point? If this were true, there might be something to such a suggestion. However, the authors of the bill apparently were more knowledgeable about their use of language than we give them credit for. For in Section 6 of the House Bill, the following stipulation is included: “To determine whether the secular purposes as set forth in Section 2 (the one quoted above) and secular effect of the educational services provided to pupils attending nonpublic schools are being achieved, the superintendent of the intermediate school district…shall supervise the testing of the level of pupil performance in courses of instruction purchased for the educational benefit of non public school pupils under this act.” If the English language has any meaning at all, this stipulation means that the nonpublic school children will be tested to determine if what they are being taught at state expense i.s indeed secular, or if the teacher is perhaps incorporating “religious” emphases into the subject matter that he is teaching. This kind of stipulation ought to cause our blood to run cold. Can we support such a bill? Can we ask for aid to education with such strings attached? I for one cannot!

The proposed House Bill 2424 tbat is before the Michigan House of Representatives is just one attempt to secure equality of education in the United States. And there is certainly the need for justice in equality of education. However, even more important than justice in education is principle in Christian education. If through our efforts toward justice we allow the principles for which we have long stood to crumble, what have we gained? We have lost the very thing which we have fought for throughout the years. If the situation comes to a choice between principle and justice, let us hope and pray that the constituency of Christian schools will not hesitate to choose principle, even though that means suffering injustice because of the policy of the state. The Bible is our guide in this matter also, and the Bible makes very clear that there does come the day when one must willingly suffer wrong in order to preserve the right. Let us however also work for the introduction of bills in our legislatures that will guarantee the maintenance of Biblical principles as well as the equality of educational justice.

Henry Vanden Heuvel, pastor of Princeton Christian Reformed Church, Grand Rapids.