In Defence of Funding Faith Based Schools
In two separate posts (here and here), Cenobyte, aka Jillian Bell, has raised the issue of public funding for Independent primary and secondary level schools in Saskatchewan. Right now the province provides up to 50% of funding Independent schools per student, should they choose to accept it. Cenobyte has no issue with existence of said schools, but rather that a secular government would be providing funding for religious schooling at all. Especially in light of the fact that religious organizations receive tax exemption from the save government.
While we both agree the existence of that parents should be allowed to send children to whatever school they choose. I’m also largely sympathetic to her argument that religious organizations shouldn’t be tax exempt (I haven’t thought enough about the issue). Our point of disagreement then lies in whether or not those schools should be able to receive funding. I would contend that these schools ought to be able to be funded in part by the public purse.
To me, this question isn’t simply a matter of whether or not religious schools receive public money or not, but a broader issue of how governments ought to decide when they should use the public purse to fund a religious or cultural group. My thinking on that question is shaped by two lines of thought: liberal multicultural political theory over the past twenty years and, the development of positive political rights. In the case of the former, culture is seen as being vital to the development of the individual. A casual examination of Canadian history shows the importance of culture. Francophone Canadians and our First Nations people place a high priority on the preservation of their culture, particularly in light of the Anglo-Canadian majority. Immigrants and settlers have placed great priority on retaining their cultural and cultural heritage. They see it as valuable to their Being.
However, a common question for liberal multiculturalists deals with the question of illiberal cultures and their existence in a liberal society. In answer I draw upon the work of William Kymlicka. According to his work, the role of the state in dealing with illiberal cultures is to ensure that members of illiberal groups are free to enter and exit and said illiberal group. And that members of said groups are aware of their political rights in the larger liberal society. (This is a very oversimplified presentation of Kymlickan multiculturalism. But alas, I am limited in time and space.)
However, this claim only justifies the existence of having independent religious schools, even if their values go against our liberal sensibilities by suggesting women are subservient to men, or LGBT folks are just confused. There is nothing in this line of reasoning that would necessarily compel a government to fund independent schools. Instead, I would suggest that there is a positive rights case to be made for religious school funding in light of the above multicultural argument. Now, by positive I mean rights that are guaranteed by the government that allow individuals to set goals and come up with a direction for their life. By contrast negative are those that allow individuals spontaneous action. In the latter, we would include such things as freedom of speech, conscience, the right to a fair and speedy trail.
The category of positive rights includes universal healthcare, affirmative action and most importantly in this case, education. The ability to read and write is obviously fundamental to understand what one values as an individual. The improved literacy (via publicly funded education) has been crucial to the development of individual freedom.
So then, the funding of Independent religious schools serves two functions: First, it allows for the parents of religious minority groups to pass on their faith to their children. Secondly, the funding of these schools contributes to the learning ability of primary and secondary schools students by ensuring that their education is similar to that of students who go through the public school system. Being in a Independent School with alternative views, should not be a reason for a student to receive a less than quality education.
However, this is not an air tight argument. I can see many places where one can disagree. If you don’t believe in the value of individual freedom, or that governments have a role in expanding it. The multicultural claim is obviously controversial. In Europe the last decade has seen an assimilationist turn, which sees that all minority groups ought to adopt the values of the majority group, in order to be given constitutional rights (Germany and France are the prime examples of this). I have no pretension that this brief blog will change minds, but I do hope to provide context for why someone might support public funding for independent schools.