Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.

Monday, August 4, 2014

School vouchers, intolerance, and justice: A response to Michael S.

A few weeks ago, Michael Scaperlanda shared this post, "School Vouchers in a Time of Increasing Intolerance," in which (among other things) he invited my thoughts about and reactions to his suggestion that the Blaine Amendments, "as ugly as they were[, could] be a blessing in disguise in a culture that is increasing intolerant of religious dissent from secular orthodoxy[.]"

It is, I am afraid, true (as Michael's post suggests) that we can expect public funds and support -- including not just vouchers, but also tax-exempt status, access to public forums and programs, even accreditation -- to come with heavy-handed regulatory "strings" that will often be in tension with the mission and character of authentically Catholic schools.  But, the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments (which have, in some states, had the effect of limiting public funds for Catholic schools and the families who support them) will not really be any help, I'm afraid.

Now, in my view (and in Michael's, I know) -- see here and here for more -- it is unjust for communities to limit public funding of education to education that takes place in state-run institutions.  It is unjust -- and Catholic social teaching is clear on this point -- to deny parents the support or assistance necessary for them to send their children -- if they want to send their children -- to Catholic schools.  That said, and as Michael reminds us, the danger has always been real -- and school-choice opponents have often emphasized it -- that public funding would come with mission-compromising regulations.  I do not think this danger is a sufficient reason to stop trying to bring about more just school-funding policies.  It should be kept clearly in view, though, as policies are designed and debated.

I do not believe that Catholics and the Church can -- in this country, given all the on-the-ground givens -- just "walk away" from our institutions and this means -- again, given all the givens, that we cannot just "walk away" altogether from public funding and potentially entangling regulations.  It's not just that we need our institutions, or that they do a lot of good work, or that we have become overly dependant on public support.  It is, in addition, that the political authority is not going to allow us to walk away.  The argument that non-state institutions may and should be not only incentivized, but compelled, to come into ideological congruence with the practices and commitments of state organizations used to be marginal and radical, but it now seems entrenched comfortably in the mainstream.   Blaine Amendments or no, vouchers or no . . . it will be an increasingly difficult political and legal fight to preserve Catholic institutions' ability and freedom to be -- assuming they want to be -- Catholic institutions.


Garnett, Rick | Permalink