4 min read

Are we to be or not to be religious
A question posed by institutions prodigious
But a false one to ask, no matter the claim
Neutrality is impossible, they all face the same
Dilemma in deciding which viewpoint to teach
Enlightenment rationalism has a sermon to preach
Thomas Jefferson’s hope, enshrined in law
A rationalist pope bringing education for all
A future which can bring uniformity of thought
A civic utopia and true peace will be brought
But reality disagrees and humans are varied
Distinct in the cultural beliefs they will carry
A truly just system allows for this diversity
A life lived honestly is not just for university
Justice must reside at the core of the system
From funding, to rules, to no thought-police victims.

This old book makes an important and coherent argument that is relevant not only to public education but to so much of civic life in our increasingly fractured and polarized society. A simply majority, winner takes all, approach is incompatible with a just pluralism and apart from recognizing that and acting accordingly, conflict is inevitable.


The fundamental premise of the current public school structure is that the state has a right and duty to ensure civic and social uniformity through education, including instilling its own vision of proper morality and justice.

Chapter 1

The historical situation shows that establishment of religion and education go hand in hand, and that it’s not possible to effectively have one without the other, and this is a key component used to ensure social unity.

Chapter 2

Thomas Jefferson’s religion was none other than enlightenment rationalism. He viewed this as the core good that was found in common among the major religions proper, and it was these sets of moral and utilitarian beliefs that he thought should be taught and promoted in civic life.

Chapter 3

Jefferson’s view of autonomous individuals left no room to formulate a positive function of the state. His view of humanity failed to account for genuine social diversity and strong conflicting loyalties. Jefferson’s philosophy of the republic was his religion, and he needed to protect it at all cost. Jefferson did not impose his beliefs on other individuals, but he did impose them on the structure of American civil government. This forces those of genuine religious conviction into either dualism or hypocritical living. Jefferson’s education scheme was adopted from John Knox’s plan for Christian education in a Christian state. Ben Franklin and Ben Rush were likeminded in seeking homogeneity. Under the guise of religious freedom there is established Jeffersonian religion.

Chapter 4

On the institutionalizing of a non-sectarian, though generally Protestant, publicly run school system. Began in Massachusetts and NY, spreading to others over time. The House Committee on Education opposed to the process wrote:

Undoubtedly, common schools may be used as a potent means of engrafting into the minds of children, political, religious and moral opinions; - but, in a country like this, where such diversity of sentiments exists, especially upon theological subjects, and where morality is considered a part of religion and is, to some extent, modified by sectarian views, the difficulty and danger of attempting to introduce these subjects into our schools, according to one fixed and settled plan, to be decided by a Central Board, must be obvious. The right to mold the political, moral and religious opinion of his children, is a right exclusively and jealously reserved by our own laws to every parent; and for the government to attempt, directly or indirectly, as to these matters, to stand in the parent’s place, is an undertaking of very questionable policy. Such an attempt cannot fail to excite a feeling of jealousy, with respect to our public schools the results of which could not but be disastrous. (59)

The Protestants maintained their schools to the exclusion of the Catholics, only to have the same arguments turned against them by the secularists years later.

Chapter 5

Relevant Supreme Court decisions. The ambiguous religious/secular framework remains foundational for SCOTUS. The Court’s reflect the same ambiguity and lack of recognition concerning the religious nature of the secular. Completely baffling judicial reasoning, devoid of any experiential knowledge of a living faith.

Chapter 6

The trajectory of judicial findings results in a recognition that private beliefs cannot be separated from their public exercise. The government is not to a priori define what is or is not religion. Religion is properly defined by people who are religious. Equal protection and free exercise require that parents should be able to send their kids to religious school without penalty.

Chapter 7

Public vs. Private diversity. An alternative democracy - consociational. The recognition of diversity through all aspects of a person’s life. The emphasis is on proportionality rather than “winner take all.” Examples of Swiss, Belgium, and Netherlands.

Chapter 8

Some proposals for rectifying the current injustice. Fundamentally, providing legitimate choice without privileging the wealthy or penalizing those who make it. The State of Arizona’s Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) system is probably the closest thing I’ve seen to a true implementation of many of these principals, although other states have begun to copy/implement.