Advocates of Church-State Separation Worried Over Appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary

FILE - In this Nov. 19, 2016 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos pose for photographs at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. Trump has chosen charter school advocate DeVos as Education Secretary in his administration. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
In this Nov. 19, 2016 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos pose for photographs at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. Trump has chosen charter school advocate DeVos as Education Secretary in his administration. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. says he turned down an offer to become Donald Trump’s education secretary before the president-elect offered the job to school voucher advocate Betsy DeVos.

Falwell, one of Trump’s earliest evangelical supporters, told the Associated Press that Trump offered him the job during a recent meeting in New York but wanted a four- to six-year commitment. Falwell said he couldn’t leave the private Christian school in Lynchburg, Va., founded by his father for more than two years and didn’t want to move his family.

Opponents to Falwell’s potential appointment based on his embrace of young-earth creationism and opposition to a law barring tax-exempt organizations like churches from partisan politicking found little comfort in Trump’s Nov. 23 announcement that he plans to nominate DeVos, a leader in the self-described school reform movement for more than two decades, to head up the U.S. Department of Education.

Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, called her appointment “an insult to public education.”

Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, denounced school vouchers as “a misguided idea that diverts taxpayer dollars into private and parochial schools and perverts the bedrock American value of separation of church and state.”

“We believe that all children have a right to a quality public education, and we fear that Betsy DeVos’ relentless advocacy of charter schools and vouchers betrays these principles,” Moss said.

DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman, leads the American Federation for Children, an organization launched in January 2010 to advocate for public funding of charter schools — which receive public funds but operate independently of the local public school system — and policies and programs to provide taxpayer-funded scholarships for children to attend private schools.

“For more than 20 years, Betsy has fought relentlessly for the right of every child — especially disadvantaged children — to receive a quality education of their parents’ choice,” said John Kirtley, vice chairman of the American Federation for Children. “We are confident Betsy will take the same passion, commitment and leadership she’s shown in the school choice movement to the helm of the U.S. Department of Education.”

Advocates for public education say the movement takes away money from already under-funded public schools. Religious liberty watchdogs like the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty say the “two-fold mission” of parochial schools — to provide both basic education and religious instruction — makes taxpayer support constitutionally problematic.

“The BJC continues to defend the religious schools’ freedom to carry out their dual mission,” BJC staff counsel Jennifer Hawks wrote in the March 2015 issue of Report from the Capital. “Opposition to vouchers is a necessary part of this effort.”

“All of us deserve the right to choose religious schools for our children, but we don’t have the right to insist that others pay for it through taxpayer-funded vouchers,” Hawks said.

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SOURCE: Baptist News Global
Bob Allen