By Rob Boston
Leaders of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Pennsylvania were pretty excited about the possibility of a private school voucher subsidy passing in the state. Gov. Tom Corbett was solidly behind the program, and it was assumed that an influx of conservative legislators in the state Senate and House of Representatives would back the scheme.
But things don’t always go according to plan. The measure passed the Senate, but last month it was derailed in the House. Voucher boosters pulled the bill after it became apparent that the votes were not there. The proposal collapsed, and it doesn’t look like it will be back this year.
Interestingly, the bill failed in part because some conservative lawmakers in rural parts of the state declined to support it. These legislators pointed out that there are few private schools in their jurisdictions and noted that their constituents support public education. They saw no reason to make a drastic change.
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Harrisburg Bishop Joseph McFadden is not happy about that.
“In totalitarian governments, they would love our system,” McFadden told WHTM-TV recently. “This is what Hitler and Mussolini and all those tried to establish a monolith so all the children would be educated in one set of beliefs and one way of doing things.”
Oh, my. Do we really have to drag Hitler into all of this?
I understand that the bishop is disappointed. He wanted Pennsylvania taxpayers to bail out his church’s financially ailing network of private schools. State legislators decided to not to hand that tab to the taxpayers. I doubt that any of them were motivated by a fondness for the ideas of Hitler or Mussolini.
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There are many legitimate reasons for opposing vouchers. Some people, noting that the public school system serves 90 percent of our youngsters, want to make certain it’s adequately funded. Others see vouchers as a violation of church-state separation. Some conservatives oppose vouchers because they fear such plans will lead to excessive government oversight of private schools.
Americans United frequently works in coalition when we oppose voucher bills. A range of groups and individuals from various religious, political and public policy perspectives join the cause. Jewish groups are frequently involved. The leaders and members of these groups would probably be surprised to learn that they have sided with Hitler.
I don’t know what Hitler thought about “school choice.” There’s an air of the absurd in even asking the question. It’s simply not relevant to the debates we are having today over tax aid to religious education. Dragging the architect of the worst genocide of the 20th century into this debate is deeply offensive. It is done for shock value only and adds nothing of value to the discussion.
Bishop McFadden should apologize for his intemperate remarks. He should also take some time to reflect. If this sort of junk is indicative of the type of argument McFadden has to offer the people of Pennsylvania, perhaps he should consider stepping out of the debate.