cartoon by Chan Lowe, South Florida Sun Sentinel

The truth about charter schools (April 21, 2014)

The conviction that divine right is on one’s side can be a laudable motivator in the cause of good, but it can also rob people of perspective, and impel them to act in irrational ways.


The Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades, for example, may have arisen out of relatively pure motives, but in retrospect they only show us how unchecked righteous zeal can be perverted and culminate in a horrific outcome.


Hollywood Doggie Beach Pictures

In a less extreme way, zealots who otherwise revere the Bill of Rights occasionally have a blind spot when it comes to the part of the First Amendment that prohibits the establishment of religion. Periodically, we hear of legal confrontations where someone tried to have a monument to the Ten Commandments located inside the rotunda of a state capitol, or in the lobby of a supreme court. Some drive-through town will paint a cross on its municipal water tower. An annual battle will flare over allowing nativity scenes on public property.


The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature has a soft spot in its heart for charter schools. The stated rationale for establishing such facilities was that the state’s public schools were so lousy that parents should be allowed to send their children to an alternative venue — a publicly funded school outside the local system. Never mind that if more money were spent on public education in this state, the conventional systems would be quite adequate, obviating the need for alternatives.


The unspoken reason conservatives are so enamored of charter schools is that many of these operations are religiously-based, which means that the charter school concept is really a back-door way of financing faith-based education with public tax money. To some people, that would appear to be a prima facie violation of the First Amendment. To a politician trying to please a special-interest constituent base, it’s a mere legal nicety to be casually dismissed.


We also happen to live in a country where many of our citizens believe that God Himself wrote the U.S. Constitution. Maybe they don’t mind that everyone’s taxes are being used to nurture and perpetuate their religion. The question is: What about the rest of us?