Working with the State

Obviously, government regulation will follow religious school choice, and regulation tends to expand over time.  However, opposing ”choice” to avoid regulation is shortsighted.  The government already holds the right to regulate private schools, and without religious schools to influence a deeper public philosophy, current religious schools are not as safe as they may think.  The key to shaping the culture is not to retreat from the fear of regulation, but to engage the public and defend light regulation based on the value of religious schools.  This opens the discussion as to which regulations are acceptable and which are not.

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Ten Commandments
My analysis concludes that there is merit to minimal regulation.  The Ohio Supreme Court supports this conclusion.  It ruled in Ohio v. Whisner[1] that the state could not require such detailed accreditation standards of private religious schools as to interfere with their mission.    Liberal democracy favors “treating adults as self-governing persons entitled to choose and pursue their own conceptions of the good life,”[2] and the educational expression of this high regard for individual adults allows communities broad discretion regarding the formation of meaningful schools.  Thus, from a liberal democratic viewpoint, regulation that polices the extremes is more suitable than regulation that narrowly attempts to control religious school programs.[3]  Through an accreditation process, regulations would ensure that schools had basic academic programs in place, did not teach the superiority of particular races, the alignment of church and state, or the unqualified submission to any human authority.  Additionally, appropriate regulations would allow a broad rather than a narrow reading of public values in accord with acceptable diversity.

Civic Health Supports Light Regulation

However, I go further than basing my concern for minimal regulation on religious interests or liberal consistency; I base the merit of minimal regulation on the public’s educational interests.  Elsewhere, I have argued the religious schools are valuable to the state, but this value is in proportion to the vitality of the faith and community within each school.  The more narrowly one defines the public’s interests, the more it will require religious schools to look like common schools with a corresponding loss of religious identity.  For example, if state regulations broadly act against religious concerns, such as requiring the equal hiring/admission of employees/students apart from the faith concerns of schools, religious schools will be undermined and provide little benefit to the state or their students.

  The research of both Robert Putnam and Rodney Stark support the conclusion that the control of faith leads to its decline.[4]  Religious schools are highly valued and influential in the lives of their attending families because they align with their conscientiously held views.  To the degree that religious schools are perceived to compromise their views, they lose their position of familial and community trust and thus, their deep influence.  Hence, the state must only regulate religious schools lightly if these schools are to remain the vitally nurturing sources that I described them to be.  Thus, if my arguments regarding the public value of religious schooling move the state toward religious school choice, they must also move the state to regulate with a minimum of intrusion and offense.  (Edited excerpts from my dissertation, Moral and Civic  Education and the Public Value of Religious Schools, 2009.

[1] Ohio v. Whisner , 351 N.E.2d 750 (Ohio 1976).
[2] Gilles, On Educating Children: A Parentalist Manifesto, 946.
[3] Ibid., 954.
[4] Putnam, Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, 19, Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-2005: Winners and Losers in our Religious Economy, Rev. ed. (Piscataway, N.J; London: Rutgers University Press, 2005), 368.

Society for the Advancement of Christian Education

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