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Lynn M. Stuter
January 20, 2003

As the war over education reform -- Goals 2000, school-to-work, and "outcome-based education" -- rages on, the time is more than ripe to ask ourselves, "Are public schools constitutional?" 

Looking at the United States Constitution, no provision is made for education, but the Constitution does instruct that ... "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." (Tenth Amendment)  In other words, education is reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. 

Why, then, do we have a cabinet level United States Department of Education (US DOE)?  Does this not violate the U.S. Constitution?  In a word, "yes." The US DOE was established under the Carter Administration as a political payoff to the teacher unions for their support of Jimmy Carter for president. 

Inquiry of the US DOE recently, concerning the constitutional authority on which it was established, brought an interesting response.  No doubt many will be surprised to learn that the US DOE was established to help and support states in the area of education; and, therefore, doesn't require a constitutional mandate. 

No doubt those reading federal legislation and laws, replete with "must" and "shall" as condition of receipt of federal tax dollars, would dispute the contention that the US DOE is there merely to help and support states in the matter of education.  No doubt a competent constitutional attorney could make the case that federal laws concerning education have, in fact, served to move control of education from the state level to the federal level in violation of the Tenth Amendment. 

So, if the Tenth Amendment reserves education to the state level, are public or government schools constitutional at the state level? 

Article IX, Section 2, of the Constitution of the State of Washington, states, "The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools..."  This appears to conform with the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution ... that is, until we look further.  

Article IX fulfills the requirements laid down by Section 4 of the Enabling Act (25 U.S. Statutes at Large, c 180 p 676), approved February 22, 1889, providing the would-be states of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Washington the ability to "form constitutions and State governments and to be admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States ..." 

Section 4 of the Enabling Act reads, in part, "... said [constitutional] conventions shall provide, by ordinances irrevocable without the consent of the United States and the people of said States: ... Fourth.  That provision shall be made for the establishment and maintenance of systems of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of said States, and free from sectarian control." 

The requirement that Washington State have a "general and uniform system of public schools" was mandated from the federal level when the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution expressly reserves to the states that which is not specifically delegated to the United States?  Why was this not challenged by the several states whose statehood was addressed by this Enabling Act?  That challenge would have, no doubt, led back to Horace Mann and laws concerning compulsory education. 

But the scope of conflict doesn't stop there.  Note, under the Enabling Act, that public schools, by federal mandate, must be "free from sectarian control." Likewise, Article IX, Section 4, of the Washington State Constitution, to fulfill the requirements of the Enabling Act, states, "All schools maintained or supported wholly or in part by the public funds shall be forever free from sectarian control or influence." 

Looking in the dictionary, we learn that "sectarian" is a derivation of "sect" meaning a group with a particular interest, purpose, or scope.  Any religion has a "particular interest, purpose, or scope", does it not, whether it be Christianity, New Age, Hinduism, Buddhism, humanism ... or any one of the hundreds of religious sects on earth? 

According to the Enabling Act and the Washington State Constitution, not one cent of public money may go to a school that is sectarian.  None. Which brings us to another problem. 

Every aspect of education, from the subjects taught, to the purpose of it, to the way it is taught (pedagogy), is based on a world view ... how one perceives the world and the purpose of it ... one's religious beliefs, one's religion, one's sectarian views. 

For example, humanists (Darwinists) believe in evolution while Christians believe in creationism.  Is evolution being taught in the public schools? Yes, it is and has been for many years.  Is the religion of humanism being taught in the public schools?  Humanism is the religious basis of education in the public schools of today.  Does that violate the Washington State Constitution?  Yes, it does. 

But the Washington State Constitution requires the state have a "general and uniform system of public schools."  How can that be done if every school is sectarian by virtue of its educational purpose?  The answer, of course, is that it cannot be done. 

How do we resolve this conflict of schools versus religion?  Can education exist that doesn't have a basis in religion, that can be said to be secular?  In a word, "No."  Which, then, has priority, education or religion?  It becomes apparent that religion (one's world view), as the basis of the education of the child, must take priority.  This has been true since the beginning of time.  Those who would say that schools today are without sectarian influence or control attempt to deny the religion of humanism that is the basis of education today. 

Too, we need to look to the history of the United States for guidance in this matter. The First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution states,  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..." While many claim this establishes a "wall of separation" between church and state, such is not the case.  Our Founding Fathers had first-hand experience with the religious intolerance of the Church of England.  They were adamant that their newly formed government would never have the authority to establish a state religion, recognize a state religion, or have the power to persecute anyone or any religious group because of religious beliefs.  The First Amendment is pivotal to the heritage and freedom of every American. 

Following in the footsteps of the First Amendment, many, if not all, states have made provision for freedom of religion in their state constitutions, something on the order of "absolute freedom of conscience in matters of religious sentiment, belief and worship, shall be guaranteed to every individual ..."  (Article I, Section 11, Washington State Constitution) This fulfills the requirement of Section 4, First part of the Enabling Act:  "That perfect toleration of religious sentiment shall be secured and that no inhabitant of said States shall ever be molested in person or property on account of his or her mode of religious worship." 

When the concept of the local school came into being, controlled by local parents, not beholden to state or federal laws or regulations, Christianity was the world view upon which the curriculum was based.  As a purely local matter, this did not violate the constitution of either the state or United States. 

But when states began to assert control over schools and school districts, collect and apportion tax monies to schools, the question posed by this conflict should have arisen.  It didn't.  In 1962, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that school prayer was unconstitutional in public schools, and public schools embraced the religion of humanism as the basis of their curricula, the question posed by this conflict should have again arisen. It didn't. 

Are public schools constitutional?  Based on freedom of religion, I do not believe they are.  In those states have constitutional mandates concerning freedom of religion and schools, the conflict between the two needs to be addressed.

2003 Lynn M. Stuter - All Rights Reserved



Mother and wife, Stuter has spent the past ten years researching systems theory with a particular emphasis on education.  She home schooled two daughters, now grown and on their own.  She has worked with legislators, both state and federal, on issues pertaining to systems governance and education reform.  She networks nation-wide with other researchers and citizens concerned with the transformation of our nation.  She has traveled the United States and lived overseas.

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