I believe that now is the time for responsible Southern Baptists to develop an exit strategy from the public schools. This strategy would affirm the basic and ultimate responsibility of Christian parents to take charge of the education of their own children. The strategy would also affirm the responsibility of churches to equip parents, support families, and offer alternatives.Those who know the history of the Religious Right might well perceive this as a logical outcome of a takeover movement that began simultaneously with the Religious Right's reaction to a 1978 IRS decision to deny tax exemptions to segregated Christian schools.
Bill Martin, in his book With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America, documented an interview with Paul Weyrich, a key organizer of the Religious Right:
Paul Weyrich emphatically asserted that "what galvanized the Christian community was not abortion, school prayer, or the ERA. I am living witness to that because I was trying to get those people interested in those issues and I utterly failed. What changed their mind was Jimmy Carter's intervention against the Christian schools, trying to deny them tax-exempt status on the basis of so-called de facto segregation." . . . The IRS threat "enraged the Christian community and they looked upon it as interference from the government, and suddenly it dawned on them that they were not going to be left alone to teach their children as they pleased. It was at that moment that conservatives made the linkage between their opposition to government interference and the interests of the evangelical movement, which now saw itself on the defensive and under attack by the government. That was what brought those people into the political process. It was not the other things."Martin added corroboration from an interview with the son of another Religious Right organizer who said,
"If the Christian schools were to lose their tax-exempt status, Billings explained, "their tuition could conceivably double. When it becomes not just a moral or a conservative/liberal issue, but a pocketbook issue, you definitely take an interest. And they did. I don't know if I was really surprised. I knew that somewhere there was going to be something that would jolt these people into action. We'd been trying to encourage that."Perhaps the SBC's attack on public schools will help jolt some more Baptists out of their lethargy about confronting the takeover of the Convention. It was never "just a preacher fight," it has always had undertones that can be traced back to the fundamentalists' disatisfaction with the leadership of SBC moderates during the civil rights era.
It is not hard to discern the ultimate goal behind SBC takeover leaders' criticism of the public schools. The intention is to replace the public schools with a balkanized system of private, religious schools funded at taxpayer expense. The threat to democracy posed by such a system has long been recognized. In 1952 James Conant, then president of Harvard University, said:
A dual system of schools with tax money going in some form to private schools, would be harmful to our democratic traditions. Some critics of the public schools are not honest in their attacks -- they want to weaken public school education and sponsor privately controlled schools. We do not have and never had an established church. To my mind, our schools should serve all creeds. The greater the proportion of our youth who attend independent schools, the greater the threat to our democratic unity. Therefore, to use taxpayers' money to assist such a move is, for me, to suggest that American society use its own hands to destroy itself.Using "our own hands" to destroy democracy, that is precisely what SBC Dominionists desire. To them, democracy is heresy. They are trying to create a Christian theocracy.