Government shouldn’t try to tell private Christian educators how to teach Christianity.
In a decidedly unconstitutional turn of events in April of 2009, the state of Wyoming threatened to shut down a small but well-established Bible school because the school’s Bible classes weren’t state approved. That the First Amendment prohibits government attempts to control religious education wasn’t enough to stop the state’s actions—at least not initially.
The school, Frontier School of the Bible, is a purely religious non-profit technical school that was founded over 40 years ago in LaGrange, Wyoming. The school’s curriculum is solely aimed at preparing its students for Christian ministry, and the few non-Bible classes taught at the school—like English—are provided only because they aid effective teaching and interpretation of the Bible. The school has over 1,600 alumni, most serving as missionaries, pastors, and youth ministers throughout the world. Frontier exists for one purpose: preparing Christian leaders to teach others about God.
But the state of Wyoming believed that the quality of Frontier’s Christian education might not be good enough for government work, so its education department sent the school a letter last April demanding that it either become approved by the state or close its doors. And approval by the state didn’t present an attractive choice. One way to become state-approved would have accreditation. But for a school that didn’t pay salaries to its faculty or staff (instead, they all have to obtain voluntary financial support, much like missionaries do) in order to keep costs low so ministry-oriented students weren’t crushed by debt at graduation, the sky-high costs of accreditation wasn’t feasible. Plus, other similar non-accredited Bible schools that have sought accreditation report that it often requires jettisoning the purely Bible-based teaching that was the sole reason for Frontier’s existence.
The school’s second route to state approval was even worse: getting a state license. But this would require ceasing to discriminate based on religion both in admitting students to the school and in hiring teachers for its Bible classes. Nothing could be more destructive to school’s Christian identity and purpose than having its Christian curriculum taught by non-Christians to non-Christians.
Thankfully, after being challenged on the many constitutional infirmities of demand to the school, the state made the right decisions to protect religious liberty, granting Frontier an interim exemption from the state’s regulations while legislators crafted a fix to the statute. That fix was signed into law just this month.
But what if Wyoming hadn’t made the right decision? It would have set the State up as in authority over the Church to determine the content of theological instruction. And “setting standards for a religious education is a religious exercise for which the State lacks not only authority but also competence.” HEB Ministries v. Texas Higher Educ. Coordinating Board, 235 S.W.3d 627, 643 (Tex. 2007). That is, having a bureaucrat determine the content of a quality Christian curriculum is like having your single neighbor tell you how to raise your children: not only does he not have any right to tell you what to do, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
Christian education is too important to be left in the hands of government.