Should there be public funding for religious schools?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Today while I was doing my weekly catch-up on what's going on back in Canada, I ran across an article in the Toronto Star about Michael Prue (who's running for the head of the Ontario NDP).  One of the notable planks in Mr. Prue's platform is his opposition to the public funding of Catholic schools.  When I was reading about this, a spark was rekindled in a debate that I've been having with myself for years.

I've never really been sure where to stand in regards to the public funding of Catholic schools in Canada (I'm not exactly sure if there's an equivalent analogue in the US to this Canadian phenomenon, so in the US the question might be where ought I to stand regarding the public funding of any religious organizations, such as the faith based charity programs so loved by the Bush administration).

On one hand, I tend to think that government and religion should never have anything to do with one another.  When one considers the history, one sees over and over again the harm that can be caused when religion has undue influence on secular governments.  For example, the persecution of Jews during the middle ages, the various inquisitions in Europe, the persecution of Quakers during the early history of the US, the religious schools that First Nations children were forced to attend in Canada, and pretty much everything that's gone wrong in the Middle East in the last 50 years are to a large degree a result of religious influence on government and legislation.

So that being the case,  I tend to be inclined to think that there should not be public funding of Catholic schools or other religious organizations.  I think there needs to be clear lines drawn between presumably secular institutions that need to be neutral across the diverse citizenry and religious institutions (particularly religious institutions that are evangelical).  

However, in the case of schools and perhaps even some religious charities, there is a public service being performed and further, it seems that being able to have some influence in the funding of those religious organizations affords the more secular government some ability to influence the religious organizations.  More particularly, providing public funding allows government to have some influence on the curricula taught in Catholic schools.  (In the case of the religious faith based programs, public funding allows the government to stipulate that the charity provided by the religious organization to be given out in a manner that doesn't discriminate between coreligionists and other folks, if the gov't actually cared to do that, which I'm not convinced is the case with the current administration)

With government hands on purse strings, it becomes less likely that Catholic schools will begin teaching ID or some other form of creationist bullshit.  With that in mind, it seems that perhaps for the sake of the kids who are unfortunate enough to have parents that send them to Catholic school, it might be worthwhile to provide public funding for Catholic schools so that those kids actually learn some science (rather than theology masquerading as science).  

So, as you can see, I'm sort of torn regarding where I fall on the debate of public funding of religious organizations.  What do you folks think?


Gila said...

You correctly point out that non-funded schools are providing a public service (and, let's face it, the government is not SPENDING money if they throw independent schools some funding, rather they are SAVING millions by not funding them since each of these students is entitled to a public school education.)

I am wondering if there is room for compromise as is done in most other provinces in Canada (where there exists no official separation of Church and State.)

In Quebec all independent schools, including faith-based, receive 60% of the cost of a public education provided the government curriculum is followed.

Alberta has a sliding scale for all independent schools: 50% funding for following the curriculum with additional funding for following the government sex-ed program. If the independent schools offer open enrollment they can receive as much as 80% of the the public school funding.

Manitoba, Saskatchewan and BC offer significant funding to most faith-based schools.

The issue here should be SCHOOL CHOICE. Do we have it in Ontario or don't we?! We presently fund Catholic schools (one third of the province's students), 5 Ukrainian Heritage/Byzantine, Arts-based, sports-based, French, a Gay-Lesbian High School, a couple of Native schools, behavior modification, alternative hours/days/full year schools, etc.

It is unfair to fully fund so many choices while denying others even partial funding for their choice in education.

I support a strong public school system. School Choice could be supported with partial government funding with the parents and donors contributing the rest. Most families will choose the free public system unless they have a particularly strong interest or need. Those who opt out of the free public system are partially compensated for the general studies if the government curriculum is followed. Fair and reasonable!

C.K. Loo said...

Sorry, it took me so long to respond to this comment, I'm not nearly a fastidious a blogger as I should be. But, Thanks for the info regarding how public funding of alternative school systems work in Canada. I really wasn't aware of that.

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