The Values Choice Movement Comes before the Supreme Court
The present national debate over the indoctrination of public school students in controversial theories and practices — such as Critical Race Theory and social and emotional learning — and the desire of objecting parents to seek relief, may give rise to a values choice movement. After all, the liberty interest and ultimate concern at stake when parents choose an education for their children is to transmit the values they believe will yield the best life outcomes for their children and society.
On the morning of December 8, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in a case that could decide whether parents have a constitutional right to equal access to public funds for what they believe is the best values-based education for their children. The case involves a Maine program that provides families living in a township without a public high school with access to public funds for the education of their children at the public or private high schools of their choice. In Carson v. Makin, the Court will decide whether, in awarding the financial aid, Maine officials can discriminate against families who choose to secure a values-based education for their children at non-public schools that teach students from a “traditionally religious” perspective.
It is highly ironic (not to mention constitutionally suspect) that, while denying families equal access to public funds for the education of their children in a manner consistent with the values of their religious faith, Maine officials indoctrinate students in a host of quasi-religious values taught in high schools throughout the Pine Tree State. Representative of this likely unlawful hypocrisy is the recent announcement of a partnership between Bangor High School, the only public high school in Maine’s third largest city, and Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights to incorporate UN human rights education and enhance social and emotional learning. According to a Bangor High School press release this so-called “Speak Truth to Power” partnership “will employ a whole-school approach that will use human rights education as an umbrella strategy for social-emotional learning, addressing inclusivity in the areas of gender, LGBTQ+, income inequality, mental health, food insecurity and individuals with disabilities.”
Values education-wise, Maine has come a long way from the inception of its publicly-funded common school movement, a key feature of which was the teaching of Christian values contained in the Protestant King James Bible. But, like today’s social justice activists who claim it is perfectly fine to indoctrinate impressionable children in “acceptable” values while dismissing opposing viewpoints, early Maine public school officials had no problem rejecting the protests of Roman Catholic parents who sought public funds to send their children to newly-established parochial schools. In one case, residents of Ellsworth, Maine literally tarred and feathered Father John Bapst, a Catholic priest from Switzerland, who dared to open a Catholic school. Unfortunately, today, parents who object at public school board meetings about their children being indoctrinated in values inconsistent with their beliefs are subjected to the high-tech tar and feathering of being monitored by U.S Department of Justice officials and FBI agents.
More recently, it is another Catholic priest, Father Luigi Giussani, founder of the Communion and Liberation movement, who encourages parents to transmit their values to their children knowing full well that they will later “unpack” and critically assess those values in the context of their life experiences. In his view, only then can young people judge whether those “inherited” values align with the desires of their heart for what is true, beautiful and good.
It is increasingly evident that public school officials are using their monopoly over the funding of K-12 education in America to impose their social and cultural belief systems on students in lieu of the values subscribed to by their parents. Without a firm foundation against which to critically assess evolving social and cultural values to which their teachers, friends, and society may expose them, young people risk never knowing the habits of the heart that will add meaning and happiness to their lives.
Hopefully, by next June, the Supreme Court will decide that, regardless of the type of school in which it takes place, the values education of young people is a religious undertaking and that parents deserve equal access to public funds to do so.
Jim Kelly is president of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice. On behalf of the Georgia GOAL Scholarship Program, he filed an amicus curiae brief in support of the Petitioners in Carson v. Makin.