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The Education Liberator, Vol. 2, No. 7, August/September 1996

San Diego Union-Tribune
Thursday, November 16, 1995

It's time to separate school and state

by Richard G. Rettig

For centuries in the West, church and state intertwined. Only after the Reformation and bloody religious wars did most European powers begin to see the wisdom of allowing their peoples freedom to choose religion, regardless of citizenship.

Today in Third World countries where Islam predominates, the struggle continues between the rule of religion and the rule of the state. Echoes of the old conflict, state vs. religion, still remain even in Europe, as we can see in the recent bloodletting in Ireland and Bosnia.

Fortunately, when our country was founded in the 18th century, the Founders agreed that there be no "established religion," thereby banishing religion from the sphere of government. Today, we all agree that government should guarantee freedom of religion but not administer religion.

But such a distinction has yet to be made and become universally obvious when it comes to education. We still think government should not only uphold the right to education for all citizens, government also should administer education. In other words, we have an "established" school system with all the consequences.

The results of this cloudy vision ? this lack of distinction between educational rights and educational administration ? has produced unending conflict, especially during the last half of this century. We have suffered what might be called "school wars" because schools are so intertwined with governments, local, state, and federal.

Think of these contentious issues ? school busing, prayer in schools, educational standards (or lack thereof), politically correct textbooks, sex education, condoms in school, creationism vs. evolution, multiculturalism, bilingual education, same sex schooling and corporal punishment.

If we took government at all levels ? from local to federal ? out of education, these contentious issues would become non-issues because, with true freedom of choice in education, parents would seek out the schools with the type of education they want for their children.

Parents who wanted prayer in school would send their children to schools offering prayer. Atheist parents would perhaps start their own schools. Parents who preferred bilingual education would seek out schools offering it. Government-run schools no longer would dictate educational offerings.

Just as we in the West no longer are forced to pray or adhere to any one religion (we can choose our church), parents no longer would be forced to send their children to a school of which they disapproved. They could choose their school.

Both religion and education are cultural matters. Do we really believe that a time will ever come when citizens can agree on what and how schools teach, any more than citizens can agree on religion?

We say we believe in the free market rather than socialism. Yet, government control of schools is socialism supreme. Why do we fear free enterprise in education? Could it be because we fear loss of power?

By blindly maintaining the marriage of school and state, we are assuring our nation of unending "school wars" in which bureaucrats, political parties and groups of parents jockey for advantage to assert their view of what and how to teach over the equally legitimate views of all others.

Let our governments divorce themselves from school administration. Let them focus instead on freedom of choice in education and on finding ways to enable parents to fund their children's education ? at schools the parents choose.

Isn't it time to stop our "school wars" and begin to separate school and state? Rettig, of Oceanside, California, is a former teacher, school business manager and private school trustee.

Editor's Note: It's breaking out all over

One sign that an idea's time is near is the phenomenon of independent discovery.

Richard G. Rettig did not know of the existence of the Separation Alliance when he wrote this op-ed for the San Diego Union-Tribune. After learning of the Alliance, and of the larger community of Separationists working to implement this idea, he signed the Proclamation and gave us permission to reprint his essay here. (Also, see Mr. Rettig's letter to the editor in this issue.)

This article is copyrighted by the Alliance for the Separation of School & State. Permission is granted to freely distribute this article as long as this copyright notice is included in its entirety.