I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Okay, so leaving aside the fact that Kansas City is apparently not in Kansas anymore, here were a couple of the big ILYBYGTH-themed news stories from last week. We’ve got more about school desegregation, Liberty U seceding, vouchers, and LGBTQ+:

School desegregation plans meet fierce opposition from affluent white and Asian parents, at AP.

I heard a lot of things said during these meetings which sounded almost verbatim like the things that were said in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s to prevent the integration of schools in Richmond and around the country.

VA redistricting meetingNew from Falwell: A new plan to secede from Virginia and join West Virginia. At RNS.

“Many counties (in Virginia) are taking a long hard look at escaping the barbaric, totalitarian and corrupt Democratic regime that is trampling on individual rights throughout the state,” Falwell said.

It’s getting harder and harder to oppose full rights for LGBTQ+: Fifth Third Bank announces it will no longer donate to a Florida charter-school program. Why? Because some schools were accused of anti-LGBTQ bias. At FlaPol.

Larry Cuban: What tech can’t do in classrooms.

no piece of software, portfolio of apps, or learning management system can replace teachers simply because teaching is a helping profession like medicine and psychotherapy. Helping professions are completely dependent upon interactions with patients, clients, and students for success. . . . Designers and entrepreneurs overestimate their product’s power to make change and underestimate the power of organizations to keep things as they are.

Making the case for Espinoza, at L&L.

It is not unreasonable for the Montana Supreme Court to conclude that the state’s scholarship program violates the state’s Blaine Amendment, but there is every reason to conclude that the State’s Blaine Amendment violates the Free Exercise Clause. States should not be able to discriminate on the basis of religion unless they have a compelling reason to do so, and there is certainly no compelling reason in this case.

The weird politics of religious discrimination in today’s SCOTUS, at Atlantic.

But for Montana, to hear conservative justices tell it, the sin of religious bigotry is the mark of Cain, a stain that can never be completely washed out. The state’s educational system must be changed at once to atone for the 1889 no-aid provision. In fact, its guilt is so profound that it must revive a defunct school-scholarship program that included religious schools.

The new (old) eugenicism, at AS.

[Bret] Stephens’s line of argument displays a particularly problematic use of science (or at least an appeal to scientific authority) as a tool to justify specious claims. . . . The problems with Stephens’s column go well beyond the questionable scientific merit of a cherry-picked article. Much more troubling is the invocation of science as a neutral arbiter of truths about race and intelligence.

moral defectives shapiroWhen colleges combine, will non-Christian faculty be purged? At NYT.

Espinoza v. Montana: The Case for Discrimination

It’s going to be a long wait until June. That is when we’re expecting the SCOTUS decision in Espinoza v. Montana. You might be sick of reading about this case by now, but here’s one more point to consider: Now is a good time for states to discriminate. Why? They need to discriminate against religious schools to avoid having to choose between good and bad religions.coolidge bible NYT

First, a little background: The issue in Espinoza v. Montana is whether or not states can discriminate between religious schools and secular ones. A parent wanted to use voucher money to send her kid to a religious school. The state’s constitution prohibits state funding of religious schools. The state supreme court said no. SCOTUS now has to weigh in.

SAGLRROILYBYGTH might recall that the “baby Blaine” amendments are often called “bigotry” by Espinoza’s supporters. These amendments—like the one in Montana that prohibits tax money for religious schools—really WERE adopted in an effort to limit Catholic-school influence. However, as we’ve discussed in these pages, Blaine amendments also represented a long tradition of “anti-sectarian” attitudes for public schools.

Recently, Mark David Hall of George Fox University made the case for Espinoza. He acknowledges the emptiness of the “baby-Blaine” argument. As he notes, the 1870s amendment may have been fueled by anti-Catholic bigotry, but it was re-upped in 1972 without any shred of anti-Catholic animus. He concludes by asserting that there is no cause for leaving religious schools out of voucher programs. As he puts it,

States should not be able to discriminate on the basis of religion unless they have a compelling reason to do so, and there is certainly no compelling reason in this case.

I agree with the first half of this sentence but not the second. States should not discriminate without a compelling reason. But the history of the twentieth century makes it clear: Society does indeed have a compelling case to limit its public support for religious institutions.

Back in the 1920s, it was widely assumed that public schools must actively teach a generic, non-denominational Christian religiosity. For example, between 1913 and 1930, eleven states passed mandatory Bible-reading laws. (Massachusetts already had one on the books, from 1826.) These laws had enormous public support. They were often seen as teaching simple moral truths, not divisive religious practices. Advocates commonly claimed that such basic religious ideas were a necessary part of any healthy society. For example, President Calvin Coolidge wrote in 1927,

The foundations of our society and our Government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings should cease to be practically universal in our country.

Throughout the first half of the 1900s, most public schools continued the traditions of the 1800s. Public schools were supposed to be “non-sectarian.” At the time, that meant they should not teach specific, controversial ideas about baptism or priesthood. But they included practices that were seen as non-controversial, such as Bible reading and reciting the Lord’s prayer. Public schools often arranged for students to be pulled out of school to learn specific denominational religious practices.

Over the course of the twentieth century, though, Americans’ opinions about the proper role of religion in public schools changed. By 1963, when SCOTUS heard the case of Abington Township v. Schempp, Bible-reading and teacher-led prayer were no longer seen as non-controversial. What if a non-religious student felt excluded? Or a non-Christian one? Even if they were allowed to skip the prayer or the Bible?

In 1970, SCOTUS reinforced the new vision of the proper role of government in school religion. In Lemon v. Kurtzman, the court laid out its famous three-prong “Lemon test.” In judging complicated cases of schools and religion, the court ruled that any law must 1.) have a secular purpose; 2.) neither promote nor inhibit religion; and 3.) avoid “excessive government entanglement with religion.”

When it comes to Espinoza, the dangers arise from the overthrow of these Lemon rules. States like Montana do indeed have a compelling reason to leave all religious schools out of their funding programs. If they do not, they will have to decide which religious schools to include and which to exclude, or simply to include all religious schools.PG prayer okee dokee

It seems too obvious to need elaboration, but neither religious groups nor state governments should want to put state governments in charge of choosing “legitimate” religion. As Curmudgucrat Peter Greene put it far better than I ever could, governments would need to establish

the Official Bureau of Religious Okee Dokeeness; now the state will determine which religious groups are “legitimate” or not.

If, on the other hand, states decide simply to include ALL religious groups in voucher programs, they will need to be prepared for the fallout. Certainly, that will include religions that endorse anti-LGBTQ ideas or racist ones. It will include religions that force brutal, even fatal “healing” services on children. It will also include churches of flying spaghetti monsters and Satan.

Is any state really ready for that?

They are not. We are not. I agree with Professor Hall that states should avoid discriminating against religious groups without a compelling reason. That might mean providing playground equipment for a religious school is okay. But when it comes to sending tax dollars to the actual religious schools themselves, states have a very compelling reason to avoid wading into religious wars.

Would You Ban Books if It Meant Secular Schools?

Okay, so here’s a question for you: Would you agree that schools should ban some pro-LGBTQ children’s books IF it meant that tax money would not fund private religious schools? Me, I don’t think so, but I DO know that this has been the normal way Americans have handled controversial issues in their public schools.

little and lion

Smut? Filth? Required reading?

Here’s the latest: Some conservative Florida parents are at it again. They’ve demanded that Little & Lion be pulled from their local high-school English classes. I don’t know the book, but at a public meeting parents denounced the book as “smut” and “filth.” Parents objected to passages like the following:

I ask him if he has a condom and he nods, grabs one from his jeans on the floor. But he stops and asks if I’m sure before he puts it on. I’m no surer of what I’m doing now than when I was with Iris, but like when I was with her, this feels right.

The book joins the long tradition of controversial books for children and teens. It’s no surprise to SAGLRROILYBYGTH that books with pro-LGBTQ themes and characters have been especially controversial, as have any books that discuss teen sexuality. Just a couple of weeks ago, you probably remember, Missouri lawmakers proposed to imprison librarians responsible for questionable children’s books.

As I explored in The Other School Reformers, the idea that public schools and libraries should be “safe” spaces for conservative religious children has a long history. In 1922, for example, Kentucky’s lawmakers did Missouri one better. They considered a bill that would have purged public libraries of any book that could,

directly or indirectly attack or assail or seek to undermine or weaken or destroy the religious beliefs and convictions of the children of Kentucky.

What would that even mean? What would a library look like if it contained no books that might “indirectly . . . weaken” religious faith? Like Missouri’s bill, it seems absurd, yet these sorts of book-bannings have proven extremely politically potent. It hasn’t always been pretty, but by and large parents have been able to ban books they don’t like.

I don’t approve of these book bannings. In fact, my early introduction to school culture-wars came back when I was a mild-mannered English teacher and a conservative parent wanted to ban one of our books.

But here’s the tough question I have to ask myself: Is it a fair compromise to ban some books from public schools and libraries if we can agree that we should also never use tax money to fund private religious schools? After all, the logic is similar.

Namely, as we detailed recently, Americans have always recoiled from using tax money to fund “sectarian” schools. There has been a lot of religion in America’s public schools, for sure, but historically schools have not been allowed to teach any doctrine considered religiously divisive. In the past, only generic Christianity—usually with a Protestant sheen—was allowed in public schools. As society in general became more secular in the twentieth century, public schools nixed more and more religious practices.

In my opinion, SCOTUS should respect this precedent when it rules on Espinoza v. Montana. If they do, though, should we also agree to keep other divisive, “sectarian” religious ideas out of public schools? Should we agree with conservative parents and lawmakers that some books should be banned from public schools?

I Love You but You Didn’t Do the Reading

Impeachment, impeachment, impeachment. There were a few other things going on last week that need noticing. Here are a few top stories from around the interwebs:

Ouch. Review of Diane Ravitch’s Slaying Goliath at NYT.

We now have “Slaying Goliath,” in which Ravitch takes a defiant leap over the line separating reasoned case-building from empty sloganeering and ad hominem attacks. The book sets out to chronicle and celebrate the resounding defeat of what people who are not Diane Ravitch refer to as the education reform movement. . . . They are, rather, to be called “the Disrupters” — “masters of chaos, which they inflict on other people’s children, without a twinge of remorse.” . . . even if Ravitch has often been justified in raising alarms, it’s painful to see the absence of nuance she exhibits here.

It’s a big one: SCOTUS heard Espinoza v Montana this week.

Are creationists bored with the giant Kentucky Ark? Attendance drops for two months running, at FA.ark attendance FA

School quality and city maps: How Chicago divides good and bad schools. At Quillette.

Turn north on Larrabee Street and walk seven blocks to Lincoln Elementary, one of the crown jewels of Chicago Public Schools. Lincoln gets a “1+” rating from the district, the highest possible rating. And the school encompasses the prestigious French-American School of Chicago, officially recognized by the French Ministry of Education and open only to students of Lincoln Elementary. Start once again at Larrabee and North. Turn south this time, and walk five blocks to Manierre Elementary, which receives a “3” rating from the district, the lowest possible rating. Manierre doesn’t just lag Lincoln. Manierre, by any objective standard, is a failing school.

How did fancy Democrats lose the confidence of the white working class? At NR.

Now those of us with postgraduate degrees and who are in the elite of the Democratic Party live in our own Versailles, and we don’t know any working-class people either—except perhaps the name of a barista at Starbucks or the woman who comes by at night to clean the office. . . . For this group, there is only one way to do it: Imitate us, the people who are the helicopter parents, whose parents were professionals, whose presidential candidates are Rhodes scholars or presidents of the Harvard Law Review. Can college for all solve the problems of this country? Well, it worked for us. Even some of the social Darwinians were subtler in rubbing it in. . . .

In the last election, it was such political genius for Trump to say: “I love the poorly educated.” Had Hillary Clinton or even Bernie Sanders been capable of saying that, they’d be on their way now to a second term. And it was also genius for Trump to make a point of pumping up his own moral squalor. It’s as if he wanted working people to know that at last they could vote for a president who was incapable of looking down on them.

Impeachment drama got you down? Check out this story from my local paper—GOP voters cheer their Dem Rep who voted for impeachment.

Is It “Bigotry” to Leave Religious Schools Out?

Don’t believe the hype. If you’ve been following the Espinoza v. Montana case, you’ve likely heard the argument that Montana’s constitutional prohibition against funding religious schools is rooted solely in old anti-Catholic bigotry. In order to understand why that’s not an adequate argument, we need to understand the 19th-century distinction between a “sectarian” school and a “religious” school.IJ BlaineFirst, a little background: The Espinoza case resulted from the desire of parents to use state vouchers to send their children to religious schools. Montana has a “baby Blaine” line in its constitution forbidding any funding of religious schools. The plaintiffs contend that these rules are discriminatory. If states fund any private schools, the argument goes, they cannot exclude religious schools simply because they are religious.

The Blaine Amendment itself failed. It was an attempt to change the US Constitution to prohibit tax funding for “sectarian” schools. The language was taken up by states, however, and inserted into dozens of state constitutions, including Montana’s. The original 1875 language proposed the following:

No state shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.

Back in the 1870s, the biggest “sect or denomination” that was competing for tax funding was the growing Catholic Church. For that reason, some conservative activists claim these constitutional amendments are rooted in “anti-Catholic bigotry.” An activist legal group, the Institute for Justice, represents the plaintiffs in this case. As they put it,

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry. Their purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools. Today, opponents of educational choice employ Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons with which they attempt to block modern educational choice programs.

The argument has been around for a while. In 2000, Justice Clarence Thomas signaled his agreement that baby-Blaine amendments were merely crude anti-Catholicism. As Thomas wrote,

Consideration of the [Blaine] amendment arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general, and it was an open secret that “sectarian” was code for “Catholic.”

And that’s the rub. To our ears, the word “sectarian” has lost its old meaning. When we talk about “religious” schools, we generally mean something very different from what Americans generally meant in the 1870s or 1810s. To make sense of the history being bandied about in today’s argument, we need to understand the ways people used the term “sectarian” back in the 1800s.

So, first, were Blaine amendments anti-Catholic? Well, yes. They were rooted in ugly post-war politics of race and religion. Back then, Democrats accused Republicans of being “soft” on white supremacy. And Republicans accused Democrats of being “soft” on Protestant supremacy. In this race to the bottom, Republicans like Blaine hoped to bolster their political careers by appearing to be “hard” on Protestant supremacy, even though Blaine himself came from a Catholic family. (It’s complicated.)

But was “sectarian” simply code for “Catholic?” No. The politics of the Blaine amendments were more complicated than that. For decades, public schools had been evolving toward something similar to the way they are today.

One big difference back then was that all public schools were far more “religious” than they are today. It was typical and expected (and often legally required) that school would start with a teacher-led prayer and that students would read from the Bible in a devotional way.

Throughout the 19th century, public leaders generally agreed that public schools should be religious in that way, but not “sectarian.” What did they mean by “sectarian?” In short, “sectarian” meant any religious practice that was not commonly shared among Protestant groups. “Sectarian” meant teaching a certain denominational belief, such as Calvinism or Arminianism. “Sectarian” meant teaching any controversial religious idea, such as adult or child baptism. And accusations of “sectarianism” tended to be biased against a lot of different religious groups, including Catholics, but also Quakers, Seventh-day Adventists, Mormons/LDS, and many others.

Maybe a few examples from my current research will help illustrate the 19th-century distinction. As cities such as Philadelphia and New York set up their first public schools in the early 1800s, this distinction between “religious” (as we know it) and “sectarian” (as they thought of it) was usually considered too obvious to be spelled out. It was assumed that all public schools would actively teach generic Christian religion, but that none of them would promote any “sectarian” idea.

Adelphi religionConsider, for example, the policy of the Adelphi School in Philadelphia at the start of the century. All students were exhorted to follow basic rules of Christian morality and “strive to be good children by loving [their] HEAVENLY FATHER.” The school founders told parents—without seeing any contradiction—that the school would not teach any religion. It would only instruct the children in reading the Bible and following “Christian morality.”

In New York, too, the Free School Society assumed its public schools would be full of religion, but devoid of sectarianism. What was the distinction? They claimed their board of trustees in 1814 included men from “nearly every religious denomination.” They carefully tallied up their students’ religious preferences, including 271 Presbyterians, 186 Episcopalians, 172 Methodists, 119 Baptists, 41 “Dutch church,” and 9 Roman Catholics. Every student read from the Bible every day in school, and on Tuesday mornings all students were pulled out of school to attend catechism classes at their church of choice.

The distinction that mattered in the 19th century was that “sectarian” education would never receive tax funding. The guiding principle was that tax dollars would not pay to teach children specific religious ideas that were not generally shared. As public thinking about religion and public education evolved over the twentieth century, the difficulties of defining a “sectarian” idea led US courts—including SCOTUS—to rule that public schools had to exclude more and more religious practice. In the 1960s, SCOTUS ruled that ecumenical prayers and Bible-reading were too religious for public schools, meaning they were not beyond controversy. Some students didn’t want to pray or read from the Bible. There was no such thing, 20th-century SCOTUS decided, as “non-sectarian” religious practices.

The distinction has a long history: Public schools have always been expected to avoid any controversial religious teaching. They have been expected to avoid—in 19th-century terms—any “sectarian” indoctrination.

What does that mean for Espinoza? Are the plaintiffs correct that they should receive tax funding for their religious schools? No. Not if SCOTUS wants to respect the two-century-old precedent of American public education. The general goal of public schools when it comes to religion is to avoid using tax money to pay for any controversial doctrine, any “sectarian” idea. And that is precisely the goal of Ms. Espinoza and the Institute for Justice.