Government Funding of Religious Schools

civil rights, culture, Education, politics, religion Leave a reply

In many parts of Canada (and, of course, other parts of the world), there are two systems of schooling in place: a secular system that does not explicitly endorse any particular religious faith (though can implicitly do so), and an explicitly religious system. In Canada, both of these are funded by the government, and it’s deeply problematic.

According to the Globe and Mail, proponents of the system believe that “(…) Catholic schools provide better education, structure and discipline than public ones (…)”, a claim which is certainly up for debate. In any case, religious schools typically have a list of requirements for both students and employees that go beyond the workplace, and impact their daily lives beyond school property. Many require that teachers be of a particular religion (in the case of Canada, it’s usually Catholic), or that they abstain from certain behaviours (mostly, unsurprisingly, focused on homosexuality). Others limit people who may speak at their schools, again largely denying access to people based on their sexual preferences.

Funding for schools that are religious is just simply wrong, one the grounds of discrimination, economics, and quality of education.

Discrimination

Firstly, it would clearly be wrong if I opened up a coffee shop, and then included a clause in the employment contract that stipulated that all employees had to refrain from pre-marital sex, and homosexual relationships. It would also be a clear violation of the Canadian Charter if I would only offer employment to Catholics. Catholic Schools get around this second part by having a special exemption (section 93 of the constitution), it’s unclear to me how the first part is legal. Insofar as this discrimination would be unethical in my hypothetical coffee shop, it’s unethical in Catholic schools. Sure, the various Catholic schools claim that they want to maintain a certain Catholic lifestyle, but (to be frank) it’s entirely beyond my understanding as to why we should allow someone to enforce bigoted, ignorant and unethical viewpoints. This is clearly a case of a “lifestyle choice” that has negative effects on society, and it’s clearly something that can be “chosen”. Ergo, “I’m allowed to be a bigot because I endorse a bigoted religion” fails to justify bigotry.

Economics

Secondly, this simply isn’t good from an economic perspective. There’s a finite amount of money in our education budgets (a number which the various Provincial governments keep arbitrarily reducing because…. They hate children? They want to run the country into the toilet? I’m at a loss), and so to ensure the best possible education, that money must be spent in the best possible way. Let’s say that we have 10 teachers of approximately equal ability. We can house them in one larger school structure, or two separate and smaller structures. Obviously, we’ll need to duplicate a lot of the infrastructure for the second option, and there will be a lot of redundant infrastructure that needs annual maintenance. Whereas two toilets might be sufficient (for the faculty) in the first option, four will be needed in the second option (two per building). This similarly increases the quantity of sinks, soap, water and piping needed. Whereas one staffroom and kitchen are needed for the first option, two are needed for the second. Again, I want to emphasize that I’m not only talking about the initial construction of the buildings, but also of the ongoing expense and maintenance. When we’re talking about multiple schools on a national level, we’re talking about seriously large costs that are being generated merely to propagate bigoted and mistaken world-views. While I would see it as an issue if it were entirely privately funded (the propagation of bigoted and mistaken world-views is always negative), at least it wouldn’t be requiring the state to foot the bill.

Quality of Education

Thirdly, the funding that a state has to allocate for education is limited. Because of the restrictions religious schools place upon their faculty, their hiring pool is necessarily smaller than a hiring pool without restrictions. Moreover, those hiring restrictions do not pertain to ‘quality of teaching’ or any other teaching-related skill, so the funding set aside for religious teachers necessarily excludes excellent, high quality teachers. Bear in mind that religious teachers are not excluded from the general hiring pool in the secular system, and if they choose to abstain from pre-marital and/or homosexual sex while in the secular system, that’s entirely fine: only in bizarro world is sexual abstention considered a ‘teaching qualification’.

Fundamentally, any and all of the taxes allocated towards education have been drawn from the society at large. While it’s sometimes necessary to allocate funds towards minority groups that face discrimination (as Catholic groups absolutely did in the 1800s), it’s entirely unacceptable to fund groups who do not face discrimination (note: real discrimination, not mere vocal disagreement) and who use that funding to further bigoted viewpoints and discrimination against oppressed subsections of our society.

You disagree? Think that there are good reasons to fund religious schools (that magically don’t apply to non-religious schools)? Leave a comment and let me know.

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