Faith in Schools? Autonomy, Citizenship, and Religious Education in the Liberal State

By Ian Macmullen | Go to book overview

Conclusion

QUESTIONS ABOUT public funding and regulation of religious schools are on the agenda in liberal democratic countries around the world— and for good reason. Even in societies where levels of religious belief are relatively low, there are significant numbers of parents who strongly desire that their children should attend a religious school. Many such parents cannot afford or otherwise access private schools, and even those who have the financial means often claim that the government ought to foot the bill, just as it routinely does for secular schooling. At the same time, citizens and policymakers in many liberal democratic states are concerned about the civic costs of religious education: schools that are segregated along religious lines may not be effective in teaching the virtues of tolerance and mutual respect and the capacities for deliberation that are so important in citizens of pluralist liberal democracies. Others are uneasy about religious education not (only) because of its perceived inadequacies as an instrument of civic education, but (also) because they believe it threatens to retard or stifle children's development as ethically autonomous persons. There are strong emotions and powerful arguments in play on all sides of the debate, but sometimes the only point of agreement among the parties is a common recognition that the stakes are high.

So, the questions are firmly on the political agenda, but how should they be resolved? I hope to have shown that the first step toward resolution must be a searching inquiry into the principles that should govern liberal education policy: before we can judge whether a particular type of religious school should be permitted and/or funded by the state, we need to develop and defend a normative account of the goals of public funding and regulation of schools. Given the widespread disagreement about educational goals that characterizes most pluralist societies, we have a formidable challenge to identify those goals that can justifiably be adopted by the state and imposed on all families. Meeting this challenge requires deciding on the correct division of authority between parents and the state in the education and upbringing of children, which in turn depends in part upon identifying and deciding how to balance the legitimate but competing claims and interests of parents, children, and other citizens. These are the fundamental issues of political philosophy with which I have been concerned throughout this work; I hope to have convinced you, at the very least, that one

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