Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), his party’s nominee in this November’s gubernatorial election, unveiled a 12-point education plan Tuesday. Among his proposals: Virginia should amend its constitution to allow public funding for religious education.
Cuccinelli, who has blasted the Catholic Church for creating a “culture of dependency on government, not God,” proposed that Virginia should divert taxpayer funds from public education to parochial school vouchers. He claimed that the separation of church and state provisions in Article IV, Section 16 of Virginia’s constitution were merely anti-Catholic bigotry:
Virginia has provisions in its constitution that explicitly bar government aid to “sectarian” schools or institutions, including the so-called Blaine Amendment. The Blaine Amendment was passed as a result of anti-Catholic bigotry in American politics in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which made clear that the federal Constitution permits aid through school choice programs, Virginia’s Blaine Amendment restricts the ability to enact broad-based school choice programs. A state constitutional amendment is needed that is narrowly drafted to allow for school choice programs that do not restrict parents’ choices about what is best for each of their children.
Cuccinelli is right that school vouchers to provide public finding to any sectarian institutions — be they Catholic schools, Muslim madrasas, Jewish day schools, or Pagan/Wiccan witch schools — are explicitly prohibited by Virginia’s constitution. Such schools are not obligated to meet the same standards as public schools and are free to promote religious teachings in addition to (or in lieu of) math, science, history, and language.
While the nation and Virginia were founded on the belief that religions should be free from government interference in teaching their beliefs, it has also been the longstanding view that the government should not pay for religions to do so. While Cuccinelli’s voucher proposals would not directly fund religious institutions, by providing tax credits to those parents who opt to send their kids to religious schools, it would in effect take public money that would likely be used for public education and subsidize religious groups.
Ken Cuccinelli is an alum of the University of Virginia. But while he likes to quote his alma mater’s founder, former Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson, Cuccinelli seemingly ignores his 1779 Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom. In that law, passed by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786, Jefferson wrote, “to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical,” and that “even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness.”
(HT: Blue Virginia)