Douglas County’s school choice program advances rather than undermines religious liberty. Government maximizes religious liberty when it minimizes its influence on religious choices. When parents decide how their children will be educated, they make an inescapably “religious” choice. Education, whether it is labeled “religious” or “secular,” rests upon foundational presuppositions – about the nature of reality, about right and wrong, and about how humans acquire knowledge. These foundations are, broadly speaking, “religious.” A “secular” public school is not neutral about these foundations, even though its presuppositions might be hidden. When the government pressures families to choose secular public education, it undermines their religious freedom. Empowering parents to make real choices about educating their children augments religious freedom. AU may not like the choices some parents are making, but it cannot plausibly contend that facilitating choice minimizes freedom.
In this sense, Madison is very much on the side of Douglas County in this dispute. In Madison’s own words: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”
Douglas County is not forcing AU to support a religion with which it disagrees. Instead, it is enabling parents to educate their children in a manner consistent with their own religious convictions.