If government says that you are free to believe in something, but not to act on it, you are not truly free. That reality lies at the heart of a federal lawsuit filed by the Bethel Christian Academy against the state of Maryland, which kicked the academy out of a private school voucher program for having policies consistent with the school’s religious values. Such unequal treatment is unacceptable.
Immediately at issue are the school’s policies requiring that students and staff behave in ways consistent with the idea of marriage being between a man and a woman, and an individual’s proper gender being the one assigned at birth. The state maintains that those policies are discriminatory against LGBTQ individuals and that allowing public money - school vouchers from the state’s BOOST program - to flow to Bethel Christian is unacceptable.
The state’s position is totally understandable: All people should be treated equally when government is involved. The problem is that the state government is not treating religious people equally - a problem in the public education system not just in Maryland, but in every state in the country.
It would be better if Maryland had a scholarship tax credit program than a voucher. Then taxpayers could choose to direct their education dollars to religious institutions and get a credit for it, rather than all taxpayers having some sliver go to religious institutions, like it or not.
How does the current education system discriminate against religious people? Everyone is forced to pay for public schools - government run and funded schools - but those institutions cannot be religious in nature. They can teach about religion, but even that is very difficult because public schools must not be perceived as even incidentally promoting any religious precepts, much less being openly guided by them. In other words, non-religious people can get the education they want from the government schools for which they must pay, but religious people cannot.
There is an excellent reason for prohibiting the endorsement of religion by public schools: In a diverse society, it would inevitably end up with government favoring one person’s religion over another’s. Indeed, for much of our history public schools did exactly that, typically favoring Protestantism over Catholicism, Judaism, atheism and so on. The current system no longer favors Protestantism, instead favoring secularism over religion, a violation of government’s mandate to be neutral with regard to religion. Most famously, a public school can teach that the theory of evolution is true, but not creationism, a religious explanation.
If government can neither favor nor disfavor religion, what is it to do? As long as it is going to fund education, the answer is to do what BOOST begins to do: allow families to choose schools with the tax money earmarked for their children’s education. Do not have government decide what is acceptable or unacceptable for children to learn, let families decide for themselves. That is true equality under the law.
Which brings us back to Bethel: If a religious school cannot act on its religious principles without being cut off from a choice program, that program ceases to provide equality under the law. It essentially says that educators and parents may pick a school consistent with their faith, but as a practical matter that faith must be dead.
Of course, just because liberty and equality dictate that government not take sides on religious questions, it does not mean that individuals who dislike religious schools’ policies have to just accept them. They can and should use their own liberty, especially freedom of speech, to critique and even condemn them.
It would be better if Maryland had a scholarship tax credit program than a voucher. Then taxpayers could choose to direct their education dollars to religious institutions and get a credit for it, rather than all taxpayers having some sliver go to religious institutions, like it or not. But it is still far more appropriate in a free society that people can choose schools consistent with their faith rather than be rendered second class.Neal McCluskey is the director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and maintains the Center’s Public Schooling Battle Map.
Ted Galen Carpenter
President Trump is once again beating the drums about the need for greater burden-sharing by U.S. allies. The latest example is his demand that South Koreans pay “substantially more” than the current $990 million a year for defraying the costs of American troops defending their country from North Korea.
This is not a new refrain from the president. Most of Trump’s spats with NATO members have focused on the financial aspects of burden-sharing. Yet the nature of his complaints leads to the inescapable conclusion that if allies were willing to spend more on collective defense efforts, he would have no problem maintaining Washington’s vast array of military deployments around the world.
Trump’s obsession with financial burden-sharing misses a far more fundamental problem. Certainly, the tendency of U.S. allies to skimp on their own defense spending and instead free ride on the oversized American military budget is annoying and unhealthy. But the more serious problem is that so many of Washington’s defense commitments to allies no longer make sense-if they ever did. Not only are such obligations a waste of tax dollars, they needlessly put American lives at risk, and given the danger of nuclear war in some cases, put America’s existence as a functioning nation in jeopardy. American military personnel should not be mercenaries defending the interests of allies and security clients when their own country’s vital interests are not at stake. Even if treaty allies offset more of the costs, as Trump demands, we should not want our military to be modern-day Hessians.
Donald Trump wants our allies to pay more, but outdated overseas defense obligations are the real problem.
Unfortunately, the current situation is not unprecedented. During the Persian Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush expressed satisfaction that allied financial contributions offset most of Washington’s expenses. That was undoubtedly true. Indeed, according to some calculations, the United States may have ended up with a modest profit. Kuwait and Saudi Arabia were especially willing to contribute financially to support the U.S.-led military campaign to expel Saddam Hussein’s forces from Kuwait. Japan, still agonizing over the alleged limitations on military action that its “peace constitution” imposed, asserted that while it could not send troops, it would contribute funds to the war effort. All three countries practiced rather blatant “checkbook diplomacy.”
The Persian Gulf War was surprisingly short, and U.S. forces incurred far fewer casualties than anticipated. However, the immediate costs were merely the beginning of an expanded American security role in the Middle East that has proven to be disastrous. The checkbook diplomacy payments of 1990 and 1991 did not even begin to offset those horrendous, ongoing costs in treasure and blood.
Financial considerations aside, it never served American interests to become the onsite gendarme of the Middle East. Those who saw the Persian Gulf War as a low-cost, perhaps even no-cost, venture from the standpoint of finances were incredibly myopic. America’s role as Hessians for Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other powers undoubtedly benefited the ruling elites in those countries, but it clearly has not benefited the American people.
Yet Trump’s security policies continue to evince similar myopic impulses. During the 2016 presidential campaign, he repeatedly criticized NATO members for their lack of burden-sharing, and he even indicated that Washington’s defense commitments to an “obsolete” alliance might be reconsidered. But when the allies pledged greater defense spending at the 2018 NATO summit, Trump’s grousing was replaced by praise and expressions of alliance solidarity. He greeted with even greater enthusiasm the Polish president’s offer to offset construction costs if the United States built a military base in Poland-even though such a move would deepen already worrisome tensions with Russia. The American Conservative’s Daniel Larison put it well: “Trump is often accused of wanting to ‘retreat’ from the world, but his willingness to entertain this proposal shows that he doesn’t care about stationing U.S. forces abroad so long as someone else is footing most of the bill.”
The overwhelming focus of Trump’s burden-sharing goals continues to be financial. His administration shows little receptivity to independent defense policy initiativeson the part of allies. Indeed, he and his advisers, especially National Security Adviser John Bolton, show outright hostility to proposals for a European Union army or other manifestations of greater Europeans-only security efforts, even though they would seem to constitute meaningful burden-sharing. Bolton has blasted such initiatives as “a dagger pointed at NATO’s heart.” Washington simply wants the allies to pay more for its own defense protection.
Instead, U.S. leaders need to engage in burden-shedding-eliminating security commitments that now entail far more risks than benefits to America. For example, it makes little sense to retain, much less add, obligations to defend small, strategically insignificant countries on Russia’s border. The risks of such a provocative stance clearly outweigh any potential benefits. Likewise, the risk-benefit calculation to continue providing a security shield for South Korea has changed dramatically since the days of the Cold War. Not only is South Korea now a much stronger country economically, one that can build whatever forces are needed for its defense, but North Korea is now capable of inflicting grave damage on U.S. forces stationed in East Asia and will soon be able to strike the American homeland with nuclear warheads.
Greater burden-sharing efforts by NATO members or South Korea will not change that more important risk-benefit calculation. The American people deserve a far more substantive policy change.Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow in security studies at the Cato Institute and a senior editor at The American Conservative, is the author of 12 books and more than 800 articles on international affairs.