* Kiryas Joel, reducto ad absurdum of public schools
Topics: Education, Rights
31 Mar 1994
If you've missed the news the last couple of days, Kiryas Joel (pronounced
'curious Joel') is a small town in New York inhabited entirely (yes, 100%)
by Hasidic Jews. The mentally handicapped children all go to a special
school which receives federal funds (as most programs for handicapped
The problem is that the residents want to make it a Jewish school but that
runs afoul of the First Amendment since federal funds are involved. Their
argument (as best I understand it) is that religion is not being supported
but merely recognized. That's a specious argument, but largely beside the
The point is that public schools necessarily run afoul of the First
Amendment and so long as we have public schools we will be in the business
of twisting religion one way or another. Consider what the effect is here.
The citizens of Kiryas Joel have plenty of money to pay for their own kids
education, and would happily put that into a private school. But, the
government taxes it away and says that they can only have it back if they
agree to follow goverment dictates (in this case removing religion from
their school where everyone wants it). Given that other people's money is
being spent, that's a necessary condition. But the net effect is an end run
to deny people free exercise of their own religion (and here I'll loosely
interpret 'free exercise' to mean that you should be able to raise your kids
the way you want using your money). The opposite choice is to force me to
subsidize someone else's religion. There is no way out of this paradox but
Consider further how this applies to less than 100% cases. Even in mixed
communities, religious people are being denied, on the margin, their ability
to educate their kids in a religious way.
Some opponents of vouchers say they would be unconstitutional because
parents could redeem them at religious schools. That's true, but the
infringement into religious affairs would be strictly less than it is now.
If vouchers are unconstitutional, then so are public schools!
Now, of course, I think the particular education the Hasidic Jews want is
patently stupid (one of them said the public schools were totally
unacceptable because her son had to play Rudolf in a play !?!). But that's
not the point. We don't get to replace foolish error by inspired truth (by
forcing kids into government schools). Instead we get to replace the whole
gamut by majority mandated truth (democracy in action) with no real chance
of introducing alternative curricula or methods. Majority truth has been
teetering for years on insisting the earth is 10,000 years old. No thanks!
From a broader perspective, what the schools are teaching these days is
PCism (long list of Reason articles on request). While that's not exactly a
religion, it's clearly a political point of view and one would think the
logic against schools promoting religion would apply to particular political
points of view as well. Ah, but of course it's the majority point of view
which defines it as truth instead. Both as a practical and a philosophical
matter, I'm happy to let Kiryas Joel and everyone else go their own way.