- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 7, 2002

Christian leaders who once told parents to send their children to public schools to be "witnesses" to "the salt of the earth" now warn that those schools are unsafe and are agents of moral decay. "It's not just about indoctrination or censorship of 'under God' in the Pledge," said Joseph Farah, editor of the independent Web magazine WorldNetDaily. "The issue is what happens to your kids when you place them in a school with children who are products of the pop culture.

"A lot of conservatives are realizing they don't care much for the effect. It's time to end all government involvement with the schools, at the state and local and federal levels."

Policy leaders supporting the movement to abolish public education include U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, Texas Republican; Conservative Caucus President Howard Phillips; Ron Robinson, president of the conservative Young America's Foundation; Lew Rockwell, president of the Ludwig von Mises Institute; and various senior analysts at conservative think tanks like the Hoover Institution.

"I think our movement is now as big as a zygote but not quite a fetus," said Marshall Fritz, president of the California-based Alliance for the Separation of School and State. "We don't want vouchers; we want the whole system abolished."

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court gave some impetus to the movement by ruling 5-4 that private and parochial school vouchers were legal.

Radio psychologist "Dr. Laura" Schlessinger, Protestant author James Dobson and conservative talk-show hosts G. Gordon Liddy and Marlin Maddoux have revised their positions on public schooling in recent months.

"In the state of California, if I had a child there, I wouldn't put that youngster in public schools," Mr. Dobson, president of the Colorado-based Focus on the Family and a former public school teacher, declared on a radio broadcast in March. "They're being taught homosexual propaganda and other politically correct, postmodern views.

"I think it's time to get our kids out."

"Dobson had previously been holding on to the belief that the public schools could be salvaged by witnessing to them," said E. Ray Moore, head of the one-man Exodus Mandate ministry. "Now he and many others seem to be coming to the consensus that government schools are biblically wrong."

Mr. Moore said many high-profile leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, America's largest Christian denomination, have come out hard against public education in the last year.

"We are losing our children," T.C. Pinckney, a retired Air Force general, told the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee in September. "Research indicates that 70 percent of teens who are involved in a church youth group will stop attending church within two years of their high school graduation."

But teachers' unions do not take seriously the idea of replacing the public school system.

"Virtually all state constitutions require the government to provide basic education for our children, and that's been the model probably since our nation's founding," said John See, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers. "I don't think it's a widespread movement to remove children from public schools, but that would be a disastrous policy."

Conservatives who support vouchers reject the "exodus" solution, and even the home-schooling movement hasn't been receptive.

While advocates of home schooling generally oppose federal involvement that removes power from local school boards, they are reluctant to identify or ally themselves with any movement that advocates dissolving the public educational model altogether.

"There's a whole host of reasons why people home school their kids," said Tom Washburne, director of the Home School Legal Defense Association's National Center for Home Education. "Our organization cares about children and wants the best possible education for them, whether in public or private schools or at home.

"I would say the motives for conservatives who are just now endorsing the abolition of public education arise out of a frustration with the public schools," said Mr. Washburne, "rather than a genuine desire to embrace home schooling or private education."

Mr. Moore, an evangelical Bible teacher and author of "Let My Children Go," said he and his allies have made progress in their 4½-year quest to convince skeptical Christians and conservatives like Mr. Washburne that the public school system should be replaced by a network of private religious schools.

"If even 20 percent of Americans pull their kids out of public schools, we'll be a step closer to establishing a new model in this country," he said.

The movement most recently scored a measure of mainstream recognition when the prominent evangelical Protestant magazine Christianity Today featured Mr. Dobson's statement and Mr. Moore's efforts.

"We have 21,780 people who have signed our proclamation to end all public involvement in education government, state and local as of July 23," said Mr. Fritz. "After the government took over the schools, we had much less education and many more schools.

"People are recognizing that basic reasoning and moral education have fallen by the wayside in public schools."

Among those who have signed Mr. Fritz's petition are perennial Libertarian presidential candidate Harry Browne; conservative author Dinesh D'Souza; columnist Larry Elder; Donald Boudreaux, the dean of George Mason University's economics department; American Indian actor and activist Russell Means; and prominent Catholics like Sister Connie Driscoll of the St. Martin de Porres House of Hope in Chicago and the Rev. Paul Marx, founder of Human Life International.

"The public school system arose in the 1840s," said Mr. Fritz. "America had 220 years of private schooling, from 1620s to the 1840s, and only 160 years of government education."

Advocates of the movement say parents are best able to communicate their moral beliefs and world views at private schools that best suit their religion.

"Vouchers make the government more involved, not less," said Mr. Fritz, adding that people shouldn't "fall for voucher proponents who say the end of public schooling is impossible."

"It was impossible to free the slaves, for man to fly, for the Berlin Wall to fall," he said. "Impossible things happen all of the time."

Catholic schools in particular are reversing a long enrollment decline, he said.

"If Americans start pulling their kids out of public schools, it would take about 10 years for a new model to arise," Mr. Moore predicted. "I try to make a biblical argument for civil disobedience and the end of public education in my book.

"Simply put, we ought to be obeying God, not man."

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