During the time between legislative sessions, the Texas legislators have a series of committee meetings to review previously passed legislation and examine potential legislative issues for the upcoming session. On Wednesday, Sept. 14, the Senate Committee on Education met to discuss various school choice proposals that would divert public funds from public schools to private educational institutions. Historically, the CLC has opposed vouchers over religious liberty and educational inequality concerns.
As Dr. Pinson noted in “Baptists Oppose the Constitution,” religious freedom is central to our identity as Baptists. Vouchers infringe upon the ability to freely practice religion or no religion at all. Vouchers use taxpayer dollars to support religious instruction with which we may disagree. For instance, Jewish and Muslim taxes could be used to support Christian education and vice versa. Our commitment to religious liberty requires a rejection of any program that, in effect, coerces taxpayers to support religious beliefs contrary to their personal convictions. As stated by George Truett,
“Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the prerogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe. God wants free worshippers and no other kind…”
On the surface, vouchers may seem like a potential solution to failing urban schools or cultural changes within public schools, but accepting state funds opens our institutions to potential state intervention. For example, legislators in California recently attempted to limit state financial aid for religious institutions that wanted to hold to traditional views on human sexuality. The bill did not pass, but the legislator who sponsored the legislation has already gone on record stating his desire to revisit the issue in subsequent sessions. With state funds comes responsibility and potentially state accountability that could threaten the religious mission of our private schools.
Religious freedom for all at the core of our Baptist identity. Vouchers infringe upon freedom of conscience by requiring taxpayers to fund religious education which they may not agree. While we believe parents should have the right to choose the best educational setting for their children whether it be public, private or homeschool. We do not believe using state funds to support private religious education. Roger Williams famously asserted, “that cannot be a true religion which needs carnal weapons to uphold it.” We must be vigilant against even subtler threats to our religious liberty, including the voucher proposals being considered by the state Legislature.