On Friday, August 12, 2011, Denver District Judge Michael A. Martinez granted a permanent injunction against Douglas County School District's "Choice Scholarship Program."
A link to that decision is here. It's 68 pages long. I read it through this morning and found it fascinating and instructive on many levels.
No doubt the DCSD will appeal it, but the decision, and the judge's language, is both clear and definite. The voucher program demonstrably violates Colorado's Constitution, and it seems to me that that was precisely its intent. The judge concluded that the likelihood of the plaintiffs prevailing is very high; the likelihood of DCSD prevailing is very low.
I haven't written or said much about this lately, because I think the original complaint pretty much said it all. (Please note the exact language of the Constitution therein.) Finally, it was a straightforward legal question, and I really didn't see how the voucher program could possibly withstand judicial review.
But one thing that hasn't been much talked about is the faulty premise lying at the heart of this debate. The position held by some is that the primary purpose of public education is to provide private parental choice, however that might affect the public good. Many letters to the editor repeat the phrase, "It's all about choice!"
But it's not.
The purpose of public education is to communicate an organized and shared body of secular knowledge, and the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy, to ALL the general populace. A well-educated citizenry is good for all of us. If parents choose to pursue a private religious education for their children, they remain free to do so. They just don't get to use public money. That money was dedicated by the community for purposes clearly defined as a public good, not to further private religious beliefs.
The historical precedents for that do go back to the founding of the nation. The founders believed that both religion and state suffered from too much intermingling. I've read a lot of recycled evangelical statements lately about how we were designed to be a Christian nation, and Jefferson's notion of the separation of church and state was ONLY about protecting religion from the state, and not the other way around. Both of those are simply wrong, have never been true, and repeating them doesn't change the historical facts. I read, thought long and hard about, and presented the evidence for that conclusion in the first chapter of my book, The New Inquisition.
Moreover, despite the repeated cries of Christian victimization, the fact is that the United States' separation of church and state hasn't hurt Christianity one bit. Religion is thriving. It doesn't need governmental subsidy. And providing such support would violate a host of founding principles that make as much sense today as they did then. For the perils of too cozy a relationship between church and state, see the fundamentalist Islamic madrassas in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Finally, the idea that I should be able to claim my per capita share of public money, and divert it to private ends is like saying, hey Colorado, send me a check for all of my gas taxes and road subsidies and a piece of everybody else's contribution because I don't USE public roads, and I want to buy an off road dirt bike. This misunderstanding of the social contract leads first to the forced dissolution of shared infrastructure, then to anarchy.
People are free to dislike, speak against, and even work to overturn constitutional provisions. But there IS such a thing as the common welfare, it's still worth defending, and the funding that we dedicate to public purposes should remain dedicated to those ends.
These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation.
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