Public Schools Are Religious!

I just wrote a letter to a law firm asking for help with a case. I believe the public schools represent the functional religion (a worldview that functions as a religion in people's lives) of secularism, and I want to bring suit against the board of education. My letter, which is really more of a rationale, is intended more to get people thinking than to get a positive response. Our system of justice needs to warm up to the issue before this case will go anywhere…
September 18, 2019

Dear (law firm),

Last week at a Texas meeting, I had a brief visit with Eric Treene from the Civil Rights Division.  He assured me that “settled law” would prevent my concerns regarding the abuse that follows from gaining traction.  But as an informed and religious citizen, I believe my case is just and demands attention.

I want to file a complaint against my local public school (Brownsboro, ISD, Texas) as being a religious establishment of secularism.  I know that law regarding the neutrality of secularism in the public schools seems to be as settled as slavery prior to 1865, women’s voting rights prior to 1920, segregation prior to 1950, and sodomy before 2003, but I am convinced that just as these “settled ideas” were revealed to be immoral, prejudicial or unconstitutional by the courts, public school secularism must be acknowledged as a "functional religion" and separated from public endorsement according to the First Amendment.  Since the “neutrality of the public schools” is as taken for granted today as the non-humanity of the negro race was in 1700, let me attempt to explain my case to one who likely does not yet grasp the religious nature of education. 

I do not speak out of ignorance.  My Ph.D. (from Baylor University) is in Religion, Politics and Society.  My dissertation research was on ideology, public education, and law.  I traced the changing interpretation of the First Amendment’s religion clauses, the evolution of secular ideology, the historical development of public education philosophy and pedagogy, and the religious conflicts associated with secular education philosophy.  

With over a decade of further experience and research, I even more strongly conclude that public schools are far from neutral between religion and non-religion.  They may grant access to people of all religious faiths, but by law, public schools only teach or endorse that which is secular.  By law, the state only teaches (presents as true, authoritative, priority, moral, logical, factual) things that align wholly with naturalistic secular belief systems and often opposed to traditional religions.  And of further concern is that the state teaches this view of life and knowledge to impressionable young children for a near majority of their developmental lives.

By nature, every broad childhood education is grounded in some set of ideological beliefs – it is unavoidable.  Just as public schools teach particular facts, values, perspectives, goals, and methodologies that correspond with a secular worldview, religious schools teach according to their particular worldviews.  Since the Establishment clause was written to prevent the state from imposing a religious view upon citizens, is it not a wholesale violation of law and conscience to align the state with secularism (even if it is done ignorantly, with the best of intentions, and a measure of democratic control)?*  

Finally, some may argue that state schools only teach common facts and not (as John Rawls put it) comprehensive views of life.  This too must be challenged.  In today’s schools, where children are under the care and tutelage of state actors (including bus drivers, teachers, and coaches) eight to ten hours per day, all the components of a worldview are actively or tacitly addressed.  Secular perspectives of the meaning, morality, and biology of human sexuality; the rights and wrongs of history; personal behavior, morality and character; the morality, value and parameters of art; individual life vision and purpose; the nature, history, and fundamentals of mathematics; the nature, priorities, and fundamentals of civilized society; the “scientific” origin and end of life are all presented - all without deferring or grounding any truth, belief, or priority beyond the material world.

In public schools, the nature of knowledge itself is actively or tacitly grounded solely in secular scientific reason and experience – never in supernatural revelation.  Although the state’s representatives, on occasion, avoid some topics as “subject to religious discretion,” this does not absolve the state of its endorsement.  The nature, breadth, and authority of secular education – unfiltered by immature and impressionable children – can do nothing but function as a religious/worldview perspective that is endorsed and paid for by the state.  Though no state preK-12 school teacher asserts that “God” does not exist, they all tacitly teach that “God” is irrelevant through their “non-endorsing” religious silence.  While at best, state schools promote agnosticism; at worst, they teach naturalism.  
As sociologists trace the increasingly rapid movement of Americans from traditional faiths to atheism and a smorgasbord of “personalized belief systems,” we need look no further for a “missionary" source than our secular public education system.  Sitting on the lap of Uncle Sam, children have been clearly (if only tacitly) taught, “Religion is irrelevant to public life and real knowledge, however, many people find private meaning in a variety of beliefs.”

The only solutions that I see for my situation, and the situation of ever American citizen, is for the state to either present all religious and non-religious perspectives throughout the curriculum (this would be closer to real neutrality), or for the state to stop “being the teacher.”  The first option is an impossibility, the second allows the state a potential role in School Choice funding (to ensure that all children have access to an education), and a light role as regulator/ “protector” (to ensure that children are not “abused” through educational neglect).

My local school, being a rural “Bible belt” school is likely less secular than many, but this does not excuse the state of its imposition of a secular life ideology.  I am not concerned with this as a Free Exercise issue; I have withdrawn my children from the public school.  I am conscientiously concerned that my state and nation through ignorance, law, and perhaps the quiet activism of “secular believers” are utilizing the mighty power of public education to subvert all traditional faiths and to undermine and promote an opposing one.
Why is there virtually no outcry against this injustice?  Two reasons: 1) Those who are most aware have already found ways to educate their children outside the public system.  2) Over a century and a half of incremental educational secularization has effectively taught the vast majority of Americans (including pastors) that their family religions have no educational relevance. 

I ask for your help in this matter.


Craig Engelhardt, Ph.D.

*It seems doubly a violation that public schools secularism came as a SCOTUS mandate as it worked to disassemble a Christian establishment!  However, as with the “Dread Scott” decision, the ignorance of the day was deep and the social consequences of their decisions made justice difficult to discern.  It remains with our generation to correctly discern this educational injustice and to seek its remedy.  

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