Editor's Note: This column was coauthored by Bob Morrison.
President Obama’s recent trip to the G-8 Summit in Belfast, Northern Ireland, included an address at the Waterfront hall. There, he criticized Catholic and Protestant schools and compared them to segregated schools in the U.S. when he was a boy. His remarks were hailed by British atheists. They took his speech for what it was: an attack on faith-based education everywhere.
Mr. Obama told an audience in Belfast’s Waterfront hall:
Because issues like segregated schools and housing, lack of jobs and opportunity--symbols of history that are a source of pride for some and pain for others--these are not tangential to peace; they’re essential to it," said Obama. "If towns remain divided--if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs--if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division. It discourages cooperation.
We cannot hear him liken Catholic and Protestant schools to racial segregation in America without a sense of alarm. Clearly, President Obama dismisses religious freedom as a basis for parents’ choosing different schools for their own children.
Mr. Obama’s own grandparents exercised their choice in sending him to Honolulu’s prestigious school, Punahou Academy. This pricey ($20,000/year) prep school was founded by Congregationalist missionaries. With roots in the faith-based community, it hardly qualifies as a segregation academy. Similarly, the president and Mrs. Obama have chosen Washington, D.C.’s very tony Sidwell Friends school for their daughters. They have every right to do so, but no one would credit this Quaker-founded school as part of a segregation system.
Mr. Obama has been zealous in trying to block other parents’ exercise of education choice. His administration has been eager to shut down Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarships. This program permits low-income parents of area students to choose a private or parochial school for their kids. Most of these scholarships go to minority students and many of them choose Catholic schools where a majority of their classmates are non-Catholic.
It is a shocking thing for the President of the United States to show such open hostility to faith-based schooling. As their motto goes, these are “schools you can believe in.” And the record of religious schools in America is a great one.