Education freedom key to religious liberty


The debate surrounding government education and religion took an interesting turn with recent court decisions regarding school vouchers and the Pledge of Allegiance. Together these two decisions provide a template for thinking about how to respect the rights of both the religious and the irreligious within education.

The Bill of Rights limits government’s involvement in religion and speech, securing for parents the right to make decisions about their children’s ideological upbringing. The most notable exception is education, where 90 percent of children attend government schools, from which religion is ostensibly absent and parents have little choice in school curriculum.

Regardless of a person’s political or religious beliefs it is difficult to justify subjecting children to a morality their parents believe is wrong or harmful. The debate over the pledge therefore begs a more important question: Who should determine what children will be exposed to for eight hours a day, 180 days per year, for twelve years?

Government should leave parents free to choose the best educational, religious, and social environment for their children. Such policies incorporate recent court rulings and respect the parental right to educate children in a way that accords with their values, even if it is contrary to majority opinion. Educational freedom provides the best long-term answer to recurring debates about the role of religion in government schools.

Nick Weller is an education policy analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon based think tank.

© 2006, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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