The Pesky Establishment Clause

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The Bill of Rights was passed in 1769 following the Revolutionary War. Freedom was won from the United Kingdom where the Anglican Church was the state religion.  The First Amendment, quoted above, has been and remains a social and political football.

The arguments center around three philosophical points of view. There are those who believe that the establishment clause prevents any government support or endorsement of religious establishments. A second point of view holds that the establishment clause prevents the formation of a Church of America, a national church, and maintains that the Founders were clear in their endorsement of Christianity. There is a third point of view that maintains that the government may support  or even endorse religious establishments as long as it shows equal treatment.

Thomas Jefferson is often quoted to suggest a wall of separation between church and state. “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

It is certainly an indication of intent of the Founders that the same First Congress that proposed the Bill of Rights opened its legislative day with prayer. It must be noted that this same Congress voted federal dollars to establish Christian missions in the Indian lands.

Supreme Court interpretations of the Establishment Clause began in 1947 with Everson v Board of Education. The Court, in a 5-4 vote, upheld a state law that reimbursed parents for the cost of busing their children to parochial schools. It was thought that if the reimbursement had taken place, that the state would clearly have violated the Establishment Clause. Subsequent cases would indicate that even small factual differences make a difference in the outcome. Justice Black stated with one case that the Constitution did not require, “callous indifference to religion.”

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that prayer in the schools was outlawed with a new interpretation of the Constitution. Prayer and Bible readings were used in many public settings including the public schools. In 1782, the United States Congress passed a resolution recommending and approving the Holy Bible for use in all schools.

The question of school sponsored prayer has been and still is a hot item. Schools have done away with baccalaureate services even when the service is conducted in a church and attendance is optional. That is a narrow interpretation as a result of the assault on Christian beliefs using the Establishment Clause.

The McGuffey Reader was used for over a 100 years in the public schools of the United States. McGuffey declared the Christian religion to be the religion of our country. Many passages in the Reader were drawn from the Scriptures. Lincoln called McGuffey the “Schoolmaster of the Nation.” McGuffey spent his lifetime trying to instill his strong beliefs on the next generation. He believed that religion and education needed to be related to have a  healthy society.

The Readers were filled with stories that reflected the importance of religious values. The stories were about allegiance to the country, the importance of work, the need for an independent spirit, strength, character, and truth. The Readers helped to shape America’s character and standards for morality for more than a century.

The Readers followed the values and moral character found in many of the early documents of our Country. Some founding State documents talk of integrity, trust,  industry and mirror the standards of the Bible from which the ideas came. The importance of the Readers was extensive; it is estimated that 120 million Readers were sold between 1836 and 1960. They remained in use in some schools until 1978.

Clearly, there was not an issue with the Establishment Clause. To the contrary, it was deemed necessary to co-mingle education and religion to maintain the tenor of our nation, to maintain the principles upon which we were founded. ,

The history of these issues and decisions surrounding the Establishment Clause are co-mingled with the freedom of speech issue in the same amendment. Both are protected by the First Amendment that prevents the government from establishing religion and also prevents government interference of privately initiated religious speech and activities. Finding the clear distinction between the two is not always easy. The Supreme Court has made clear, however, that private religious speech and secular speech are equally protected

The Establishment Clause has been used for different causes and reasons to eliminate the use of religion and the practice of religion in any public situation. It is being used to try to remove God from any public area. There are efforts to remove “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps the largest effort now is to remove “In God We Trust” from our currency.
















A Proud Moment

It was a proud and satisfying moment when a reporter asked me whether I was a conservative or a liberal. Great! He couldn’t figure out what label to attach to my candidacy. The question came during the campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction in California in 1970. It is by design a non-partisan race. Campaigns are supposed to be about education, about kids and learning. Those educators running for election should be presenting their ideas, concepts, philosophy, research, and their proposals to improve the quality of California public schools. Their assumptions should be devoid of politics.

The reporter continued after his question. ,He said, “Sometimes you sound like a flaming liberal and sometimes like a staunch conservative. Where do you position yourself?”

That was perfect. When I walked into a classroom, sat in my  counseling office with a student, planned learning experiences, wrote curriculum, or did research, it was not as a politician. It was as an educator. It was, and is, always about learners, teaching, and learning. It was, and is, always about being the professional who can help to keep politicians out of the decision-making roles in education. It is bad enough to fight the rules and regulations imposed by state politicians who have acted to gain and maintain the support of political groups. It is more difficult to witness what happens from the federal level. Programs spring up and millions of dollars are spent to promote one group or another. Administrators spend hours and hours filling out forms and keeping records. Things that are birthed from political pressure usually end from political pressure. And we try another idea, or we wipe off an old idea, give it a new name, and find out that it was no better the second or the third time. When you take your eye off the ball, you can’t get to first base, let alone hit a home run.

When you think, act, dream, and implement only those ideas that are best for learners, there are no conservative or liberal labels. When people are free to become all they were created to be, there are no political labels.

Yes, there aren’t even any politically correct conversations.

Maybe the Presidency should be non-partisan

Saving Our Disappearing Constitution

What a gift to be born in the United States of America. As I sat at the end of my driveway, I had this immense sense of gratitude. I looked around at the horizons–the twin peaks across the valley to the south, some of Fallbrook to the north, and my home that covers some of the horizon to the west. How fortunate I was as the warm sun in the February morning bathed my body. The palms were still, and the sounds of the birds who love the homes they have found in the fronds flew in and out and filled the sky with their songs of happiness.

As I sat on the ridge and looked down the slopes, I could see the hawks gliding down to pick off their unsuspecting prey. It is a special treat to see the top side of these beautiful red-tailed hawks. How free they are. They remind me of freedom, my freedom etched in the blood of those who fought to attain it and those who still die to preserve it. And the Founders who gave us the government to secure our precious freedoms, enshrined in our Constitution, clearly created  a parade as if to remind me again who these creative and courageous men were. They spoke to me again of the enduring nature of the Constitution and the republic they created that has lived and thrived for all these decades. These Founders were very careful to create a republic with power vested in the people

As  the parade of Founders continued, other images appeared in their midst–professors at major universities suggesting that we do away with the Constitution. How could anyone know anything about the founding of our great country possibly suggest that we throw away the guiding document of our Founders?

It is just more voices suggesting that our governing documents are out of touch with the present; they are outdated. The culture of today, they say, requires a more modern approach, a new set of governing policies that fit our modern outlook. How could anyone who has reaped the benefits of living in this great land possibly think, much less suggest action to discard the Constitution? Few people in our country enjoy the many privileges and rights guaranteed them by the Constitution more than university professors. They say and do outrageous things in the name of the First Amendment, a part of the document they want to throw away. But I guess they would keep the pieces that guarantee their “rights.”

It is an assault that I see going on all around our nation. I happen to think that it is no accident. It is a planned program to transform our nation. To do so, the Constitution must be made impotent and our Christian heritage must be forgotten, denigrated, or at least portrayed as illegal. The use of the pesky establishment clause of the Constitution has been a treasure trove for those who wish to remove all vestiges of our Christian heritage from schools, public places, and even public meetings. These same people plus many others are systematically removing any patriotic phrase or song from public meetings, even the Star Spangled Banner from sports events.

My parade of Founders is shouting, “Awake, o citizen awake! Freedom must be purchased again by each generation with its blood, its diligence, its vigilance and its voices. Be a voice!”


Public Schools in Troubled, Monopolistic Waters

Public schools are in troubled waters, troubled, monopolistic waters. Many feel public schools cannot be fixed because of the structure. Schools are government owned and government operated monopolies which are populated with learners who  are  forced  to attend. Parents cannot, for the most part, even send their children to any school in their district; they have a designated school and must get an intra-district transfer if they choose another school than the one designated

For more than eighty years I have been a rider on the merry-go-round called education. Experts with many ideas have jumped off and on. The dashing horses have been painted new colors and given new names. Sometimes the horses were replaced with elegant carriages. But the music didn’t change much; the same melodic sounds reminded you that it was still a monopolistic merry-go-round. It remained the only merry-go-round in town

The monopoly continues. Before compulsory education, literacy rates were higher than before this compulsory monopoly was created. Millions of American over the age of sixteen can’t read or fill in simple applications with personal data. Many can’t write simple letters or messages or do simple arithmetic problems. This monopoly has created a system of protections for some unfit, unwilling, and non-productive personnel; unions not only protect these people, but they make it difficult for the great committed people to do their jobs. Student learning suffers. It is a puzzle that an enterprise so important to everyone would not offer choice for its participants. It is strange that a system so important continues to remain a monopoly that has the power through unions to protect people who should not be with our children.     

There is a local union supported by a state union supported by a national union supported by union philosophy in general. There are many members in all these unions who would not belong to them if they had choice. These are the wonderful professionals who are committed and passionate about their work. They spend their time and energy helping young people accomplish their dreams. But their environment is clouded by the demands of the negotiations, the multi-level government requirements, and the malaise of many who are forced into this monopolistic monolith, public education.               .

One might ask how this entity stays in business, why parents don’t make other choices. Public schools are protected through government compulsion. Children are forced to attend, parents are forced to pay school taxes, school boards must negotiate with the unions, and unions oppose any school choice options that appear. In addition, private schools are out of the reach financially of most families. Charter schools particularly are opposed by the unions, and therefore, by many teachers who enlist the aid of their students’ parents to also oppose them.

Until this monopoly is broken, or by some magic, choice becomes a viable option for all, our merry-go-round will only see surface changes, new paint, a new melody here and there. The price for our young learners may become more critical. We now must add the fact that we have a carrousel not only not suited to many riders of the last century, but one now playing music that is not even recognized by the natives of the digital learners of the 21st century.

It is for all of these incredible digital natives like my grandchildren and the thousands of other 21st century learners, that this immigrant to the digital generation writes these words. I have spent my professional life trying to make this monopoly called public education less monopolistic, less compulsive, less governmental, and less servile. I put forth my ideas with joy and enthusiasm. I know that the human spirit is alive; the desire to learn is alive. I know that I have learned to negotiate the shoals of the troubled waters. I know that there are many who teach and learn with passion and purpose. They create the tapestries of their classrooms from the vibrations of the positive energy of their learners.

But we must have this for all learners. Our great country has been successful because of creativity, ingenuity, inventive hearts and minds, and  the pursuit of dreams. But it is sad that much of the ingenious enterprise and the technology that benefits us all has been spawned in someone’s garage and often by a drop-out of our educational system. That is sad. The institutions that profess to educate are often so confining that a mind full of creative ideas and dreams must exit those walls to survive, create, and grow.