As we wait for Republicans in the Senate to get their act together and pass another COVID relief bill — or even seriously consider the one passed months ago by House Democrats — there’s a possibility that taxpayer money could be funneled to private religious schools in the same way upwards of $10 billion went to religious organizations in the first bill.
Now several explicitly non-religious organizations are coming together to urge Congress not to use public money meant for public schools for religious purposes.
I know, I know, the whole thing seems futile, but unless people speak out against the GOP’s misuse of federal funding, there’s a lack of public awareness about the issue and a lack of any meaningful pressure.
The letter is signed by the Center for Inquiry, American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the Freedom from Religion Foundation, and the Secular Coalition for America.
“Public schools are open to all children regardless of their religious or nonreligious background,” said Jason Lemieux, director of government affairs for the Center for Inquiry, the organization leading the coalition’s efforts. “Private religious schools are not. They’re free to discriminate in hiring and to choose which students to admit, all depending on the religious views of whoever happens to operate them. Right now, when public schools are working overtime to safely reopen, that’s where pandemic relief needs to be focused.”
“The novel coronavirus does not discriminate in whom it infects,” states the letter, “but many private schools do discriminate when selecting children they choose to educate and who they hire to teach.” For example, the letter points out that in the 2017-2018 school year, 78 percent of private school students attended a school with an explicitly religious mission. “It is impossible to fund private schools without directly funding religious programming,” they write.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has used her position to strengthen private education at the expense of public schools. Our nation is worse off because a person whose only qualification for the job was her wealth decided our public education system would be the toy she amused herself with for a few years.
To use a national emergency as a way to send money to schools whose primary purpose is proselytizing is unethical, arguably illegal, and a disservice to students throughout the nation. Will Republicans do it anyway? Probably. But let history show that there were groups speaking out against this problem before it ever happened. If only the people in power listened to them instead of wealthy donors.
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