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Christians for Public Education

From the creation of the world in Genesis to the dire warning of tyranny’s destruction in Revelation, the Bible is filled with valuable lessons.

Much of the Bible perpetuates truths about religious convictions and practices, but there are other more practical lessons to be learned as well.

The Old Testament encouraged the rotation of crops and cleansing rituals that would provide sanitary communities, while the New Testament encouraged civic responsibility and sound ethical behaviors for life and business.

In other words, from the onset of humanity’s existence, God instilled the notion of education into the minds and hearts of humanity.

Therefore, if education is a divine right gifted to humanity, then Christians should consider the right to education as an essential part of their faith.

In conjunction with this foundational tenet, Christians should promote access to education to every human, regardless of religion, race, socioeconomic standing or geographical residency. Education, as a divine right, should be championed and lauded for every person.

If this is the case, why do some Christians seem to be opposing an equitable public education for all?

The faction that opposes an equitable education for all children often sites three arguments to undermine and dismantle public education.

1. Public education has “kicked” God out of schools, leaving behind a fortress for secular humanism.

This idea that God has somehow been “kicked” out of schools is preposterous. How can an omniscient, omnipotent God be moved so easily? The very idea is ludicrous at best and theological malpractice at worst.

While church and state should be respected, the very idea that God’s spirit does not loom the school hallways is a devaluation of an ever-present God.

The reality persists that men and women of faith are in the classrooms educating our children. By their actions, they demonstrate the very best of Christianity.

While respecting the separation of church and state, educators tie shoes, wipe noses, spend their own money on students, offer wise counsel, instill virtues, teach morals, provide surrogate parenting and much more.

In fact, a teacher can very well be the prime example of appropriate Christian behavior in a civic institution.

Teachers embody the words of James 2:14, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So, faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

2. Any type of taxation is an evil that must be opposed.

Even Jesus knew the truth that “taxes” was an unavoidable reality, but a reality that provided societal health and necessary governance.

When asked whether it was lawful for Jews to pay Roman taxes, Jesus responded, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Jesus promoted a “citizenship of two kingdoms” philosophy that respected the institutions of both faith and governance. Jesus never concluded that taxation was evil.

Luke’s Gospel dispels the notion that Jesus was an anti-tax advocate even stronger when he recalls the moment the Lord was before Pilate during the Passion Story.

While religious leaders attempted to lie about Jesus’ position on Roman taxation in order to render an execution verdict, Luke used Pilate’s own words to dispel such a myth, “I find no basis for an accusation against this man” (Luke 23:4).

As the church developed, the Apostle Paul took up the mantle for Christians being good citizens. In his Roman manifesto, Paul concluded that Christians should pay their taxes because civil authorities are “God’s servants” (Romans 13:6,7).

If Jesus and Paul were correct, then the positions of advocating for an unjust tax system and/or an anti-tax position based upon religious grounds would be in opposition of those biblical principles.

3. Parents should have the right to send their children to private schools at taxpayer expense.

The first part of this statement is admirable and just, but the second violates two principles that need to be protected.

The idea that parents have the right to send their children to the school of their choice is a good one.

In fact, parents have always possessed the right to send their children to the schools of their choice, whether that school was religious by nature or a self-directed home school. Nothing prevents parents from practicing this right.

However, to send a student to a private school at taxpayers’ expense sets up the possibility of two grave errors.

The first has already been mentioned; there needs to be a healthy separation between church and state.

Taxpayer funds should not establish or promote religion; therefore, using taxpayer revenue to pay for a private education violates the First Amendment.

The second problem with this idea is that it’s equitable somehow. The truth of the matter remains, a voucher provided by the government or the amount collected in an educational savings account (ESA) will not fully pay for a private school education.

A false argument is made that somehow vouchers will provide adequate funding for a private education, when in truth they fall quite short. The voucher system or ESA programs end up being nothing more than an upper-class tax cut.

When Jesus said his Father had anointed him so that “he could bring Good News to the poor, proclaim release to the captives and let the oppressed go free” (Luke 4:18), I am guessing that he did not have a tax system that only benefited the wealthy and powerful. Jesus’ lessons and ministry were always among the poor, reasoning to resolve this also meant poor children.

The only way for every child – regardless of socioeconomic standing – to receive an equitable education is for public education to be fully funded and supported by citizens.

As students and disciples of Jesus, Christians should be at the forefront to support funding and volunteerism at local schools.

Thomas Jefferson once argued, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

He was fearful that if the citizens of the new union were not educated, then they would open themselves to the whims of the aristocracy, enslaving themselves once again to the wealthy and powerful.

Jefferson’s political rival, John Adams, echoed those sentiments by arguing for a public school in every district.

Adams wrote in 1785, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it.”

Jefferson, Adams and most of the founding generation understood that if the U.S. were going to survive and prosper, then the citizens of this great union would need to be well educated.

Therefore, a free public school system was established in the hope that every child would one day have access to a free education.

This education would perpetuate the survival of democracy while empowering individuals to pursue the happiness promised in the Declaration of Independence.

As Jesus-followers, Christians should be some of the strongest advocates for a free and equitable public education for every child.

Christians should show appreciation for the professionalism and compassion educators demonstrate each day in classrooms.

Christians should think and act based upon the acknowledgment that a free and equitable education is a right bestowed upon humanity by our creator.

If I may play off the words of Jesus, “Let the little children come to school to learn … to be free … while all the time ascending to great heights.”

Mitch Randall is executive director of EthicsDaily.com. You can follow him on Twitter @rmitchrandall.

Editor’s note: For further reading on columns in EthicsDaily.com’s series on public education, check out these previous articles.

Pastors’ Group Supports Strong Education for All Kids by Charles Foster Johnson

Why Privatizing Public Schools Threatens Education by Diane Ravitch

Right Side of History: Removing Barriers to Education by Colin Harris

4 Ways Your Church Can Support Public Education by Michael Ruffin

Ministering in Our Schools Prepares Kids for Future by Suzii Paynter