Speaking passionately and personally, we pastors are for Texas children, and we are alarmed at the language and legislation coming from some of the most powerful people in our land. It attacks neighborhood and community schools and the dedicated, faithful educators who nurture and instruct our children.
The Texas Senate recently passed Senate Bill 4, providing tuition tax credits to donors giving scholarships to private schools. These are plainly private school vouchers.
The lieutenant governor’s hand-picked advisory board issued a letter calling every public school classroom “a Godless environment.”
We are offended. Several of our spouses and many of our members work in public schools, and many of our children attend them. We are certain they take God with them.
We see first-hand the dedicated servants committed to the moral, ethical and emotional well-being of children as well as their academic preparation. We know the love with which counselors, administrators, classroom teachers and other staff work with the broad range of students.
They encourage all, fretting over those with particular challenges, pouring their hearts, their hours, their energies into the precious lives of children, no matter their native ability, economic background or ethnicity. Former U.S. Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., also an Episcopal priest, points out that objects — like chewing gum — may be kept out of schools, but not God. God is the creator of heaven and earth.
Pickpocketing public coffers while simultaneously attacking public schools — anchor of the common good — seems to us inadequate leadership.
We applaud the 12 senators who opposed the disappointing voucher legislation, and we urge our representatives in the Texas House to defeat vouchers. Here’s why:
Our state Legislature has repeatedly rejected private school vouchers because they divert public money to religious schools in violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits any establishment of religion.
This time the ruse is not to give religious schools money directly but simply to allow a reduction of funds in the public treasury to be diverted to private schools.
Religious liberty is at stake. The separation of church and state is intended not to protect the state from the church, but to protect the church from the state.
With Thomas Jefferson, we believe it is sinful and tyrannical for government to compel people to pay taxes for the propagation of religious opinions with which they disagree, or even with which they agree. Authentic religion must be wholly uncoerced.
Faith should be dependent on the persuasive power of the truth it proclaims and not on the unwanted, and unneeded, assistance of the Texas Legislature.
George W. Truett, pastor of Dallas’ First Baptist Church for the first half of the 20th century, said on the steps of the nation’s capital: “Religion needs no prop of any kind from any worldly source, and to the degree it is thus supported, it is a millstone hanged about its neck.”
As a practical matter, vouchers channel public monies to private schools with no public accountability. Private schools could use public money to discriminate on race, gender, religion and special needs.
Private schools define and meet their constituency’s needs, but public money must come with public scrutiny.
Vouchers have always been defeated in Texas because they neglect the lawful, public system and, thus, violate the Texas Constitution.
Article 7, Section 1, says: “A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.”
Texas benefits from a robust economy, yet hovers near the nation’s bottom in per-pupil spending. We feast at bounty’s table while some children subsist on crumbs.
Education is God’s gift to all persons. Education is a core component of democracy.
We pray the Texas House will defeat vouchers by whatever name.
Let us, rather, defend and protect public education in Texas, and let us affirm and support those who shape children on our behalf.
The authors are the Rev. Brent Beasley, Broadway Baptist Church; Tim Bruster, First Methodist Church; Carlye J. Hughes, Trinity Episcopal Church; Tom Plumbley, First Christian Church; Larry Thomas, University Christian Church; Karl Travis, First Presbyterian Church, all in Fort Worth.