19th century theologian R. L. Dabney got it right when he observed, regarding conservatives, that "[t]his is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation.
"What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution to be denounced and then adopted in its turn.
"American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted?
"Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom.
"It always when about to enter a protest very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its bark is worse than its bite, and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent role of resistance. The only practical purpose which it now serves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it in wind, and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy from having nothing to whip."
Professor Dabney's comments certainly remain applicable and relevant today.
When President Jimmy Carter proposed creation of the Federal Department of Education in the 1970s, much Republican rhetorical bombast ensued.
Indeed, Ronald Reagan made the very existence of the Department of Education an issue in his 1980 presidential campaign.
The Republican platform that year said:
"Next to religious training and the home, education is the most important means by which families hand down to each new generation their ideals and beliefs. It is a pillar of a free society. But today, parents are losing control of their children's schooling....
"[t]he Republican Party supports deregulation by the federal government of public education, and encourages the elimination of the federal Department of Education."
However, during the Reagan years, funding for the Department of Education increased from $14.6 billion per year in 1980 to an annual $21.5 billion appropriation at the end of Mr. Reagan's tenure on January 20, 1989.
Under George Bush, Federal funding for education increased to $25.8 billion.
By 1995, when Republicans gained control of both Houses of Congress in the 1994 mid-term elections, total Federal outlays on education, according to a study prepared by Jim Jacobson and Mike Hammond for The National Center for Home Education, amounted to more than $70 billion for a single year.
"The U.S. Department of Education's budget accounts for only $33 billion of the estimated $70 billion in federal education assistance. The Department administers 244 education programs, while 30 other federal agencies administer 308 more."
Since then, the Republican Congress has given Bill Clinton even more than he has asked for, appropriating additional billions of dollars for Federal education spending---appropriations which include all the money Mr. Clinton needs for the very programs which the Republicans decry---including Goals 2000, School-to- Work, and Outcome Based Education.
Now, the latest line of Republican retreat is with respect to Federal education testing. Predictably and appropriately, national school testing is opposed by Republicans and conservatives.
Predictably and inappropriately, compromise has already been struck on this issue.
As reported in The Washington Post on November 12 (p. A11), "Last year, GOP leaders spoke seriously of abolishing the Education Department....They also threatened to make deep cuts in Goals 2000, a prominent Clinton program to give states grants for school reforms. But now they provide precisely the amount of money he had requested."
"As Congress wraps up its work this year, Clinton is continuing to prevail....Republicans are on the defensive they're still confused over how to be for education without supporting new programs from Washington, said Chester Finn, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and assistant secretary of education during the Bush Administration. Clinton's political instincts have been very shrewd....
"On some education issues, Republican leaders and Clinton have reached consensus. Both want to develop new charter public schools...Both sides also have agreed to spend more federal money....
"Another feud still exists on Clinton's plan to give national tests in reading and math, which would be an unprecedented step for schools. The compromise forged last week may preserve the tests....GOP lawmakers have deep differences on the subject. Last month, Senate Republicans strongly backed a modified form of Clinton's tests even as the House voted to ban them."
Of course, it would not be necessary to worry about national testing if there were no Federal money.
Once the principle is conceded, the question is not whether defeat will be experienced, but rather when and to what extent.
Conservatives, especially the Republican variety of conservatives, tend to assume that, when a skirmish is lost, the supposed principle on which it was being waged need be surrendered forever.
In other words, once the Federal government puts its nose in the tent, it can never be pushed out.
The liberals make no such strategic concessions. For them, every step backward is followed by an attempt to take at least two steps forward.
On the other hand, the Republicans seem never willing to attempt recovery of lost ground, but are instead content to argue about how much of the remaining turf will be shared with the adversaries of those whom they purport to represent.
They constantly argue that they cannot make big changes all at once---but that is precisely what the liberals do.
For the liberals, the statists, the socialists, and the democratic fascists---all of whom favor more government control and less personal liberty--- incrementalism is merely a tactical ploy which they use to achieve their objectives circuitously without having to change either destination or direction.
The Republicans foolishly believe that resorting to incrementalism, even when they have the power to achieve a complete turnaround, offers some kind of victory, when really all that they are doing is temporarily slowing the growth of liberal programs---without in any way challenging their permanence or legitimacy.
Once having surrendered the principle, they lack the moral and political confidence to subsequently reassert it.
There is no hill they seek to take, because fighting for that hill might place at risk their political lives---which they value far more highly than any political principle.
The fact of the matter is that, Constitutionally, there is no proper role whatsoever for the Federal government in education, except with respect to the armed forces of the United States and occupied territories.
Indeed, the First Amendment to the Constitution stipulates that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".
Inevitably and inescapably, every educational institution is an establishment of religion, however that word "religion" may be defined.
In the 18th century, the authors of the Constitution understood religion to mean "the duty which we owe our Creator".
Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (Fifth Edition) characterizes religion as "one of the systems of faith and worship".
The compact edition of the Oxford English Dictionary carries this definition: "devotion to some principle".
Indeed, the Oxford Dictionary and Thesaurus, published in 1996, asserts simply that religion is "a thing that one is devoted to". It further stipulates that to educate is to "give intellectual, moral, and social instruction".
Religion is, in fact, a system of ideas concerning the nature of God and man.
One can argue that, for some, the advocacy of homosexuality has become a system of faith and practice.
The same can be said of environmentalism, which, carried to extremes, can take the form of "earth worship".
Feminism, Nazism, and Communism are all ideologies or systems of faith and belief.
Professor Robert H. Nelson wrote in the July 7 Forbes: "The problem is that many public schools have been teaching religion for years without calling it that. In their recent book, Facts Not Fear, Michael Sanera and Jane Shaw studied 100 children's books on the environment being used in schools. What did they discover? That many of the books advocate a kind of salvation through environmental activism.
"Is this religion? Of course it is. Roger Kennedy, until recently the director of the National Park Service, has said, wilderness is a religious subject that should be _part of our religious life. John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, believed that in the wilderness people find terrestrial manifestations of God.....
"The environmental gospel teaches that excessive consumption is bad for the soul, that a new reverence for the earth is required and that the people of the world must repent their wasteful ways. Recycling has become an environmental religious ritual, analogous to keeping kosher kitchens or eating fish on Friday.
"Whether values are taught in the name of old or new religions, they are still religious values, not facts....
"The Christian right and other religious groups complain that under current court rulings...they are being discriminated against. Indeed they are. Why should separation of church and state apply to historic Jewish and Christian teachings but not to education in newer and more modern gospels? The use of public schools to require that students learn an environmental state religion is as clear an infringement on religious liberty as requiring that they learn Catholic doctrine."
When Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Declaration of Religious Liberty that "[t]o compel a man to furnish funds for the propagation of ideas he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical", he was asserting the principle of liberty of conscience which is implicit in and fundamental to the plain text of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
All education is essentially, inescapably, and inevitably religious, in that it must carry with it presuppositions about the nature of God and man.
Those presuppositions, in the early days of the American Republic, were explicitly Christian. Now, they are increasingly humanistic and antinomian.
That is why we must be thankful for the straightforward language of the First Amendment to the Constitution which forbids Congress from making any law, whether to raise revenues or expend them, in support of a religious establishment, even as it prevents Congress from interfering with the free exercise of religion.
Personally, I reject the "doctrine of incorporation", which wrongly asserts that the First Amendment applies to state governments, as well as to the Congress.
But, if I were to join those liberals who argue thus, my case would be even stronger, deducing as it would that the Federal Constitution prohibits any expenditure of public funds, even by state and local governments, in support of educational establishments, since they are, in fact, religious establishments---institutions which indoctrinate in the context of their preferred presuppositions.
The notion of religious "neutrality" is a myth. There is no middle ground on the question of Biblical reality. Either God's word is true, or it is not.
All subsequent conclusions must be based on one or the other of these prepositions.
Either man is a created being "endowed by his Creator with certain inalienable rights" or man is an historical accident---an evolutionary entity who exists by random selection, without moral order, discernible origin, or ultimate purpose.
When Biblical presuppositions are rejected, the door is opened for, at first, the official "toleration" of and very soon thereafter, the advocacy of all that which God condemns---from sexual promiscuity to abortion to homosexuality, and, of course, in all cases, the eventual rejection of all legitimate, ultimate, God-ordained authority.
Because law is "the will of the sovereign", so long as the United States has a political system which recognizes that God's creatures owe a duty of stewardship to their Creator, and that we have a right and duty to hold accountable those to whom we delegate political authority (so that we may conscientiously exercise our stewardship), then concepts of national independence are viable and understandable.
But, when the chain of accountability of civil government to the citizen is broken and Constitutional limitations, such as those proscribing Congressional action with respect to any establishment of religion, are ignored, then the Biblical Common Law system which defines our liberties is easily rejected in favor of the globalist nostrums of "world citizenship", which are now increasingly part of government-funded educational curricula.
The real issue is not whether education shall be religious, but rather on which religious premises our system of education shall be based.
Because I favor civil liberty and have wanted my own children to be educated in the context of a Christian world view, I must reject any law which propagates faiths alien to my own and which obliges me, through compulsory taxation, to subsidize the propagation of those other hostile faiths, even as such law places bounds on the advocacy and exposition of that which I and my family believe.
After all, children are not the property of the state, and God assigns parents primary and ultimate responsibility for the nurture and admonition of their progeny.
If anyone needs evidence that questions of religion are inescapably intertwined with issues of education, he need look no further than the current controversies in the State of Alabama, where a megalomaniacal Federal Judge, Ira Dement, ignores both the First Amendment and the Tenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, as he seeks to impose his own will, to deny the teachers, administrators, parents, and students of the State of Alabama their Constitutional right to the free exercise of their religious faith.
The possibility that Judge Dement may succeed simply underscores the necessity of not obliging any citizen to subsidize with his taxes official hostility to what such citizens understand to be true education and true religion.
But, despite the failure of Republicans at the White House and on Capitol Hill to make good their promises, there is hope, for the Constitution makes clear that no funds may be disbursed from the Federal treasury, except by a Presidentially signed Congressional appropriation, or an overridden Presidential veto of such an appropriation.
No President can veto a zero. So whenever Congress has the discernment and the courage to end the Federal role in education, it can do so by appropriating zero funds for such purposes.
Failing that, we must await the election of a President morally and openly committed to veto any and all appropriation measures which reach his desk including even a single cent for the unconstitutional provision of Federal tax dollars to establishments of religion---at any and all levels, whether such appropriations include funding for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act or subsidies, direct and indirect, to colleges and universities, which have all too often become institutions of anti-Christian indoctrination.
By saying "yes" to liberty of conscience, we must say no to Federally subsidized and regulated establishments of religion.
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