|Kenneth Whitehead Assess Conflicts, Suggests Alternatives
WASHINGTON, D.C., 24 JUNE 2004 (ZENIT)
It may be time for committed
Christians to think more seriously about establishing their own schools or
joining the growing home-schooling movement.
So says Kenneth Whitehead, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education
and author of "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic" (Ignatius).
He shared with ZENIT why it may be necessary for Catholics to look for
educational alternatives in the face of the increasing conflicts among the
courts, Christians and federally funded schools, and the growing moral
corruption of our times.
Q: In an Orange County school district recently, three Christian school
trustees voted not to revise the district's anti-discrimination policy to
adhere to a California law that requires all public school districts to
protect certain groups from discrimination, including transsexuals and
others who do not embrace traditional gender roles. Eventually, the policy
was revised so that it was satisfactory to the state and the dissenting
board members. In this instance, do Christians have a primary duty to act
according to their faith rather than according to secular law?
Whitehead: In matters of conscience Christians do have a primary duty to
act according to their faith rather than according to secular law. Acts
5:29 states: "We must obey God rather than men."
In the case described here, it would seem that being required to recognize
that a disordered condition such as the condition that "transsexuals" have
chosen for themselves belongs in a distinct category entitled to the
special protection of anti-discrimination laws. Such a requirement could
well violate a well-formed Christian conscience, and hence a vote against
it would be correct and proper.
In the present case, it is good that the Christian trustees were able to
reach an agreement with the school district. But if they had been strictly
required by law to uphold the California anti-discrimination statute, and
if they had failed to do so on the basis of their consciences, they would
have to be prepared to suffer whatever penalty exists under the law for
their failure to fulfill their legal obligations, just as protesters
against unjust racial discrimination had to be prepared to pay the
existing legal penalties for civil disobedience as long as these remained
Christians are not entitled to break or contravene laws just because those
laws are immoral or unjust. They are only able and obliged
— to work to try to change such laws.
In the case described, if these trustees were indeed legally required to
recognize transsexuals as belonging to a special, protected legal
category, I believe it might be time for them to consider resigning as
public school trustees. They owe nothing to a school system that requires
the violation of their consciences.
People today often talk as if the public schools were part of the nature
of things, and that they simply have to be supported, whatever the
problems or costs. But this is not true.
In the 19th century, when Catholics realized that the public schools then
in the process of being established were, in reality, not religiously
neutral, but were thinly disguised "Protestant" schools, Catholics
abandoned these schools and established their own school system.
In view of the growing moral corruption and decadence in so many sectors
of society, including now in the public schools, it may be time for
committed Christians to think more seriously either about establishing
their own schools or joining the growing home-schooling movement.
Q: A Christian Canadian medical student lost three successive appeals on a
failing grade for his refusal to perform or refer for any abortion
procedure. Recently, he was reinstated in good standing shortly before his
graduation. How does a school's action such as this endanger Christians'
rights to religious expression, practice and belief?
Whitehead: This case illustrates, precisely, how moral corruption has more
and more entered into the institutions of our society.
In the United States, school policies that would penalize a medical
student for conscientious objection to abortion would, on their face, seem
to contradict the First Amendment to the Constitution, which is supposed
to guarantee the free exercise of religion, including decisions concerning
questions of moral conscience.
However, successive court decisions, especially those extending
anti-discrimination measures to wider categories of people
including some living in openly immoral lifestyles
have progressively weakened the force of the First Amendment to the point
that, today, it no longer effectively protects the consciences of
Increasingly, Christians are threatened with actual coercion if they are
unable to go along with today's bold rejection of the traditional moral
Q: Considering recent prohibition of government scholarships for theology
majors, the government seems to be pulling back from subsidizing
religious-oriented education. How do you see these funding cuts?
Whitehead: Denial to theology students alone of government scholarships
otherwise available across the board to everyone else is, from one point
of view, an obvious injustice, and represents yet another government
encroachment on the freedom of religion.
From a Christian point of view, however, there is no compelling reason why
the government should be expected to subsidize religion at all, including
through scholarships to study theology. Nor do I believe that we should
even want the government to be involved in deciding what is, and what is
not, a "valid" religious question.
Q: Where do you think religious education is heading? Will it be more
balkanized? More isolated from the mainstream of America?
Whitehead: As implied in the answer to the previous question, religious
education should not be a matter falling within the purview of the
government at all.
Religious people should be allowed to believe and act according to their
convictions and consciences without interference from the government or
the courts. That is what religious freedom means.
This is certainly the teaching of the Second Vatican Council in its
declaration on religious liberty, "Dignitatis Humanae." The dignity of the
human person requires that he be free from coercion in matters of
religious belief and moral conscience.
Originally this was assumed to be the case in the U.S. Constitution and
legal system as well. But it is being steadily undermined today because of
some of the moral directions in which our society is headed.
Increasingly, government and court actions require special recognition of,
and giving special protection to, individuals and groups that espouse and
practice what in Christian teaching is considered immoral.
These initiatives need to be resisted using every avenue available in our
(still) democratic system. If and when the day arrives that such
resistance is no longer possible, democracy, too, will be at its end.