A Texas Baptist pastor has urged state lawmakers to reject the latest proposal to use taxpayer dollars to help parents send their kids to private or parochial schools or educate them at home.
Charles Foster Johnson, executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, told the Texas House Public Education Committee Oct. 17 that sufficient funding for public education is “a moral duty” and “a public trust, before God, to educate all our children.”
Johnson, founder and co-pastor of Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, Texas, asked lawmakers not to follow the example of five other states that have established education savings accounts, or ESAs, allowing parents to receive the taxpayer money earmarked to fund their children’s education at a private school in the form of a debit card they can use for a variety of options, including religious homeschooling and parochial schools.
Johnson said allowing taxpayer money to go to religious schools violates the constitutionally mandated separation of church and state and would open faith-based organizations that accept the tuition money to government regulation.
“There is no proper authority that this state has to divert public funds toward the establishment of any religious cause,” Johnson said. “Whatever you call the instrument — a voucher, a tuition tax credit, and education grant, savings grant, opportunity grant, savings account — if this state levies any authority whatsoever to channel those funds toward a home school or religious school, you are violating God’s gift of religious liberty.”
Rep. Dwayne Bohac, a member of Second Baptist Church in Houston, took strong exception to Johnson’s testimony, saying he is probably the only member of the committee who happens to be zoned for a failing elementary school.
“You have no right to make me send my child there,” Bohac shot back. “What that allows to happen is I have the money to send my child to a private school, praise the Lord, but there’s a lot of people who don’t have the money to do that and but for a tax credit scholarship they would have the money to send their child.”
“You don’t have the moral right to force somebody to attend a school if they don’t desire to go, even if it’s the best school they are zoned to go to,” Bohac said. “You don’t have that moral right to become the parent, nor does this committee.”
Johnson said Texans have the right to educate their children however they choose, but they cannot expect the public to pay for their family’s religious education.
“This is God’s gift of religious liberty,” Johnson said. “Jefferson didn’t make it up, Madison didn’t make it up, and no human judicial body has any proper authority to question it. Since when has God needed Caesar’s money to do the Lord’s work? Never.”
Johnson, who started the organization with nearly 2,000 registered ministers across the state invested in improving struggling public schools three years ago, said it is morally unacceptable to take money from the public education of all children to underwrite the private education of a few.
Johnson said a member of the senate told him during the last legislative session that his middle-class constituents who earn between $90,000 and $100,000 a year “need some relief” with the cost of sending their kids to private school.
“To privatize this sacred trust by calling it a civil right, and … with the ruse that this money is going to go toward our poorest children — it just is a lie that needs to quit,” Johnson said.