“The greatest threat to religious liberty in America today,” said former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr in a recent speech, is “the increasingly militant and extreme secular-progressive climate of our state-run education system.”
Barr, whose high-profile career has demonstrated a deep commitment to the U.S. Constitution as written and intended, spoke to the religious liberty legal defense organization Alliance Defending Freedom. The legal lion put together a strong argument that a half-century of Supreme Court decisions combined with the left’s long march through American institutions have pushed U.S. public schools so far from religious neutrality that many now comprise a government-established preference for the atheist religion. Government preferences for some religious views over others are unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
“The heavy-handed enforcement of secular-progressive orthodoxy through government-run schools is totally incompatible with traditional Christianity and other major religious traditions in our country. In light of this development, we must confront the reality that it may no longer be fair, practical, or even constitutional to provide publicly-funded education solely through the vehicle of state-operated schools,” he said.
Government Schools the No. 1 Anti-Religious Force
While many American adults believe U.S. public schools keep religion out of the classroom, that era ended with their childhoods, Barr says. Too many Americans are dangerously unaware that today’s public schools forcefully instruct children in specific religious and political beliefs that openly undermine Christianity and, therefore, the private self-government necessary to preserve the United States’ foundational natural rights regime.
The evidence for this is strong, both in data and personal testimony. “[Ex]pansions in government service provision and especially increasingly secularized government control of education… can account for virtually the entire increase in secularization around the developed world,” writes sociologist Lyman Stone in a 2020 review of research on this topic.
A few weeks ago, conservative pundit Dennis Prager cited constantly encountering some of the “millions — yes, millions — of Americans whose children have contempt for America, for free speech and for their parents as a result of attending an American college or even high school. I meet such people at every speech I give, and I speak to them regularly on my radio show. Ask these parents, if they could redo their lives, whether they would keep their child in school.”
I’ve seen and heard this myself countless times, both politically and religiously, usually when it is too late to do anything. One mother active in conservative politics recently described to me the trend of her friends’ young adult children losing their faith and conservatism in high school as “like an invasion of the body snatchers.”
Her fellow conservative parents are scared for their college-age kids, she told me, and with good reason. Much data and human experience back up parents’ worries that secular-progressive schooling converts conservative Americans’ kids away from their deepest religious and political beliefs.
How U.S. Government Schools Became Anti-Religion
Barr explains how U.S. public schooling, which used to be explicitly Christian, became the strongest antagonist to religion in American life. He detailed a brief history of American education to make his case, in three historical phases. In the first phase, “the advocates of public schools agreed that religion was integral to such an education. You could not separate moral education from religion,” he said. Thus, in America’s founding era, taxpayer-supported schools were explicitly religious.
In the second phase of American education’s history, Barr said, “the Left embarked on a relentless campaign of secularization intent on driving every vestige of traditional religion from the public square. Public schools quickly became the central battleground.” This was the era when the Supreme Court cooperated with the political left to eradicate Christianity from publicly supported education, for example by banning prayer in schools.
Since it is impossible to educate someone without passing on religious beliefs — Is there a God? Does he care about what we learn, or is he irrelevant to learning? What is right and wrong, and how do we know? — this myth of…