Monday, August 17, 2009

Homeschooling and the Real Meaning of Freedom

A few posts back, I wondered allowed whether or not the American Civil Liberties Union would put much effort into opposing the "Lone Wolf Initiative" as they did opposing TIPS. Well, it turns out, they've been busy:

Pace High School [in northerm Florida] Principal Frank Lay and school athletic director Robert Freeman, who will go on trial Sept. 17 at a federal district court in Pensacola for [allegedly] breaching the conditions of a lawsuit settlement reached last year with the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I have been defending religious freedom issues for 22 years, and I've never had to defend somebody who has been charged criminally for praying," said Mathew Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, the Orlando-based legal group that is defending the two school officials.

An ACLU official said the school district has allowed "flagrant" violations of the First Amendment for years.

"The defendants all admitted wrongdoing," said Daniel Mach, director of litigation for its freedom of religion program.

In January, the Santa Rosa County School District settled out of court with the ACLU, agreeing to several things, including a provision to bar all school employees from promoting or sponsoring prayers during school-sponsored events; holding school events at church venues when a secular alternative was available; or promoting their religious beliefs or attempting to convert students in class or during school-sponsored events.

Mr. Staver said the district also agreed to forbid senior class President Mary Allen from speaking at the school's May 30 graduation ceremony on the chance that the young woman, a known Christian, might say something religious.

"She was the first student body president in 33 years not allowed to speak," he said.

The criminal charges, which carry up to a $5,000 fine and a six-month jail term, originated with a Jan. 28 incident in which Mr. Lay, a deacon at a local Baptist church, asked Mr. Freeman to offer mealtime prayers at a lunch for school employees and booster-club members who had helped with a school field-house project.

Mr. Staver said no students were present at the event, which was held on school property but after school hours.

"He wasn't thinking he was violating an order," he said. "Neither did the athletic director. He was asked to pray and so he did."

Mr. Mach said the event was during the school day and that Mr. Lay, the school's principal, has said in writing that students were present.

Judge Rodgers' order also included Michelle Winkler, a clerical assistant who was attending a school district event in February with other school employees at a local naval base. There, she asked her husband to offer a blessing for a meal, says the ACLU, adding that students were present and led the Pledge of Allegiance.

A few thoughts:

  • It seems pretty clear that the ALCU and their house-judge are trying to extend a settlement intended to cover students to adult venues.

  • "Trial" exaggerates the amount of due process the defendants are likely to get. I'm pretty sure that "contempt of court" is a judicial decree, not a trial by jury of one's peers. And since the judge in question has already indicated his judgement by issue the citation, it's a foregone conclusion how this will go.

I thought about this article in the context of an online debate on "the true meaning of freedom" helpfully summarized by Distributed Republic.

There are two schools of thought:

  • Rationalist Liberalism: committed to intellectual progress, universalism, and equality before a unified law, opposed to arbitrary and irrational distinctions and inequalities, and determined to disrupt local tyrannies in religious and ethnic groups, the family, the plantation, feudal institutions, and the provincial countryside. (Will Wilkinson's definition.)

  • Pluralism: An absence of monopoly characterized by the right of exit (Arnold Kling's definition).

Arnold Kling explains pluralism:

Neither my local supermarket nor any of its suppliers has a way for me to exercise voice. They don't hold elections. They don't have town-hall meetings where they explain their plans for what will be in the store. By democratic standards, I am powerless in the supermarket.

And yet, I feel much freer in the supermarket than I do with respect to my county, state, or federal government. For each item in the supermarket, I can choose whether to put it into my cart and pay for it or leave it on the shelf. I can walk out of the supermarket at any time and go to a competing grocery.

The exercise of voice, including the right to vote, is not the ultimate expression of freedom. Rather, it is the last refuge of those who suffer under a monopoly. If we take it as given that the political jurisdiction where I reside is a monopoly, then perhaps I will have more influence over that monopoly if I have a right to vote and a right to organize opposition than if I do not. However, as my forthcoming Unchecked and Unbalanced argues, the reality is that the amount of influence I have is shrinking while the scope of the monopolist is growing.

It's easy to see why such as Will Wilkinson hate this definition. For one thing, for Will Wilkinson, freedom means . . . agreeing with Will Wilkinson. That's pretty much it.

But for me, it's not a contest. Not even close. Think about it for a second. If I want my children's education to reflect my values, I have two choices:

  • Elect candidates supporting my values to my local school board, local government, state government, both houses of Congress, the president, and all three branches of the federal judiciary; or

  • Homeschool.

As a practical matter, homeschooling - the right of exit - is the only way to meaningfully exercise freedom. Everything else is just the freedom to do what Will Wilkinson orders me to do. In other words, tyranny.

1 comment:

Trumwill said...

I don't think that you're fairly reading Wilkinson. He's not saying that lack of exit is unimportant. Rather, he's saying that it is incomplete. Even though I steadfastly agree with you on homeschooling, I think I agree with him that an exit to leave is a component of freedom but not the end-all-be-all of it and that having a voice is also required.

I would go a step further to say that what's going on in Florida actually applies with what he is saying. What the ACLU is doing is using its interpretation of the Constitution to deny people a voice. This isn't to say that the right to exit is unimportant (and Wilkinson doesn't say that - I would be stunned if he opposed homeschooling), but a student body president should not have to say her piece simply because some atheists are offended.

I would say that the right to leave is the last freedom, but far from the only meaningful freedom.