Bible, Science

Louisiana mayor Bobby Jindal's religious school voucher program is experiencing opposition from what might be seen as an unlikely source: a Baptist preacher. Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, ordained minister for Preaching and Worship at Northminster Baptist Church in Monroe, Louisiana, wrote on behalf of the Interfaith Alliance when he denounced the program in a letter to Jindal on Tuesday, 7 August. Gaddy and the Alliance are not alone in their critique. Online churches like the Universal Life Church operate on the rights afforded by the separation of church and state, so our ordained ministers should also be concerned about the rationale behind this voucher program.

Jindal's scheme would blur the line separating church and state under the guise of giving poor children the chance for a better education. Under Louisiana's proposed voucher program, a statewide expansion of an existing New Orleans program, children who attend schools receiving a grade of C or D under the state's accountability program would be eligible to switch to private schools. The problem is that some of these schools are operated by religious organizations that teach Young Earth Creationism, and the school vouchers will be funded by public tax dollars. (The legislation has already been approved by the state's Senate Education Committee.) This is a discouraging step towards blatant, state-subsidized religion.

In the strongly worded letter, Gaddy, president of the Alliance, confronted Jindal over his attempt to get a law passed that would let the state use taxpayer money to fund what essentially boils down to religious education. "Funding, participating in, and sending our children to religious education programs is the right and responsibility of faith communities, clergy, and parents as they see fit," he wrote, "not of our government. Every American also has an equal right to choose not to fund or participate in religious education." Subsidizing theology goes against religious freedom and the ULC is appalled to learn that tax-funded private schools would teach that evolution does not exist and that the Loch Ness monster is evidence of Creationism.

LA state flag, pelicans, ULC

In fact, the position of the Interfaith Alliance is very similar to that of the Universal Life Church Monastery. Both organizations strongly believe in preserving the integrity of religion as well as science by maintaining separation between the two, thus preventing government curtailing the free exercise of religion as well as preventing religion infiltrating and influencing secular government policy. "In short," writes Gaddy, "the school vouchers system you have allowed to be implemented in our state embodies everything that is wrong with school vouchers as a whole and threatens the integrity of both religion and government."

The Louisiana school voucher program endangers both freedom of religion and civil government, as Rev. Gaddy astutely argues. The Baptist minister reminds Jindal, "Many of the private schools in Louisiana that you are supporting with millions of dollars of vouchers are honestly saying upfront that their mission is sectarian education that promotes one faith over another and makes no effort to commend the common good." He's right. Religious strife and discord are not things a nondenominational online church should be endorsing, especially if its motto is, "We are all children of the same universe". Let's hope the voucher program fizzles.



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