In Texas, and across the nation, parents are objecting to the ideas that their children are being taught in government schools. This dissatisfaction is a significant reason why vouchers and education savings plans are growing in popularity. Such programs enable parents to more easily find schools that teach the ideas that they want their children to learn. Now, legislators in Austin are considering a bill that would require the teaching of ideas to which many parents will object. Senate Bill 1515 (which has passed the Senate) would require the Ten Commandments to be displayed in every classroom in every government school. Instead of the State mandating what ideas are taught, legislators should be protecting intellectual liberty.
While many incorrectly believe that the United States was founded on Christian principles, displaying the Ten Commandments subjects Muslims, Jews, non-believers, and those of other faiths to ideas that many parents may not want their children exposed to. If they cannot afford a private school, they are locked into the government school system and the ideas mandated by politicians and education bureaucrats. And this is true whether they object to Christian ideas, the “woke” agenda, or any other set of ideas. Adding insult to injury, those parents are forced to pay for the promotion of ideas with which they disagree.
Interestingly, the Texas Senate has passed a school choice bill. The bill would provide parents with more options regarding their child’s education and the ideas that she is taught. While the Senate is promoting the intellectual liberty of parents and students it is also assaulting that freedom by mandating that a particular set of ideas be taught.
Supporters of the bill, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, claim that the law would protect religious liberty in Texas. They haven’t explained how a government mandate that promotes one particular set of ideas is protecting liberty. To protect the liberty of some at the expense of others is a gross contradiction. More significantly religious liberty is an application of intellectual liberty, of which there are two components.
The first is the freedom to express and support one’s ideas, whether religious or secular, without persecution from the government. The second component is the freedom to refrain from supporting ideas with which one disagrees. SB 1515 will enable Christian to express their ideas, and it will force non-Christians to support those ideas. That is not intellectual liberty. That is the agenda of a would-be theocracy.
Intellectual liberty protects each individual’s right to express and support his ideas, no matter who or how many disagree. Nobody, including the government, has a moral justification for suppressing that right. At the same time, nobody, including the government, has moral justification for forcing individuals to support ideas with which they disagree.
This type of controversy is only possible because of the government’s monopoly on education. Approximately 90 percent of Texas schoolchildren attend a government school, often because their parents cannot afford an alternative. Parents have little choice about the ideas that their children are taught. What the government mandates is what they get.
If we had a free market in education, this would be a non-issue. Parents would be free to choose and pay for the type of education they wanted their children to receive. Education entrepreneurs and innovators would eagerly meet the diverse needs and desires of students. As an example, in colonial America, a wide variety of education opportunities existed, and many were free. Indeed, schools for blacks, women, and immigrants were a popular charitable activity at the time.
The fundamental issue isn’t which set of ideas government should be promoting, but whether government should be promoting any set of ideas. If the answer is yes, then a battle over which set of ideas will ensure. If the answer is no, and it is, then we must protect intellectual freedom. As Ayn Rand noted, “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.”
We do not have economic freedom in education. Indeed, Gov. Abbott and other supporters of school choice have implicitly said as much. Instead of protecting “religious liberty,” the supporters of SB 1515 should be protecting freedom, not in some limited manner, but completely and consistently.