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Choice or Church?

03/22/2023 07:55:48 PM


Rabbi Scott Hausman -Weiss

The Book of Deuteronomy declares, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.”  Our Rabbis taught that “Justice” is repeated here because we are being commanded “to do justice, justly.”  And there are those who teach that “Justice” is repeated because there is rarely only one means by which a circumstance in our world can be made fairer.  This week, for the CSK blog, one of our CSK supporters and participants, Wendy Suttin, has lifted the lofty pen of justice to encourage us all to pay close attention to governmental efforts on education in our State.  If you would like to share your thoughts on a particular subject pertinent to our world, feel free to contact me.

Rabbi Scott 

CHOICE OR CHURCH?  by Wendy Smolins Suttin

The current school voucher bill making its way through the Texas Legislature deserves serious reflection by members of the Houston Jewish community. 

The essence of Senate Bill 8 is as follows:

If a parent wishes their child to opt out of the public school system, the state will deposit a certain amount of taxpayer money into an educational savings account. This public money may then be used toward tuition at any private school, religious or secular, that the parent chooses.

Governor Abbott has been vigorously promoting these educational savings accounts

“to empower parents as the primary decision makers for their child’s education”, and has designated “education freedom for all Texans” an emergency item for this legislative session.

Significantly, what is NOT being publicized is that it is a referendum on a founding bedrock of our democracy, the separation of church and state…how intertwined do we want government and religion to be?

To be clear, as of now Texas provides no public funding for private schools. However, if SB 8 passes, taxpayer monies can and will be funneled to religious private schools.  Private schools are not accountable to the state in the same way as public schools; they have great latitude in setting their own policies and standards. 

It is quite possible that without realizing it, we could end up contributing to schools whose professed worldviews encourage exclusivity and divisiveness or whose believers think they know the “true” way God wants us to behave in numerous aspects of our lives, perhaps espousing views completely antithetical to our own moral code. At this time in our country many people are so passionate about their own beliefs that they have become extremely disrespectful and intolerant of the beliefs of others. Do we want public money to support extreme positions and thereby give them credence?

Perhaps most importantly, as Jews we know that any fervent belief, religious or ideological, that gets even a toehold in the laws of a society can open the door for increasingly destructive beliefs that may ultimately lead to the” unthinkable” becoming “thinkable”.  In an effort to avoid these dangers, the United States from its inception was founded by our forebears to be a democracy dedicated and committed to church and state separation. Likewise, since its founding, the Anti-Defamation League has advocated the exact same position.

 It is very troubling that there is so much political pressure to pass SB 8 that its advocates are not publicly referencing, let alone discussing, the impact it would have on church-state separation. This deflection makes the issue a proverbial elephant in the room…an elephant capable of trampling societal norms we take for granted.

If you are troubled by SB 8 and its beginning erosion of church-state separation in Texas, there are definite actions that can be taken both COLLECTIVELY and INDIVIDUALLY.

COLLECTIVELY we can encourage our community leaders and clergy to act boldly to address the dangers inherent in this bill. These dangers affect ALL OF US. This is a time to initiate a joint effort with mainstream clergy and leaders in like-minded communities to show UNITED support for church-state separation and UNITED opposition to stealth efforts to erode it.

INDIVIDUAL action is crucial as well. The most important individual action to take is to contact your state senator and representative and let them know that their vote for this bill may very well cost them your vote in the future. Time is of the essence as the bill is already in committee and its proponents are well funded and well organized. 

You can also participate in excellent nonpartisan nonprofit organizations at national, state and local levels. Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a national educational and advocacy organization with local chapters that is dedicated solely to preserving the church/state boundary.  Raise Your Hand Texas works across Texas advocating for keeping public monies in public schools and,“ for Texans’ rights to a free, high-quality public school experience for EVERY child”.

Now is the time we must ALL speak out.

Thu, May 23 2024 15 Iyyar 5784