A few days ago, the American Family Association (AFA), a Christian nationalist group based in Mississippi, issued an email headlined, “Quit letting public schools destroy your children.”

The message inside was the usual mix of hyperbole, hysteria and untruths from religious extremists, a mean-spirited attack on our public schools and the men and women who are going above and beyond during a global pandemic to educate our children.  

The good news is that despite ignorant propaganda like this, Americans support and value public education. The number of U.S. children who attend public schools has remained consistent at 90 percent.  

That doesn’t mean the forces that seek to undermine public education have been unsuccessful. Sadly, they’ve done a lot of damage by promoting misguided private school voucher programs in several states. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld some of these schemes, refusing to acknowledge their many problems, including how they violate taxpayers’ religious freedom by forcing them to fund private religious education.

Today Americans United is launching a new effort to educate Americans about private school vouchers and how they threaten the education and equality of our schoolchildren, our public schools, church-state separation and our shared values. One of those values is preventing discrimination. Public schools serve everyone. But private schools, including many religious ones, do not. They pick and choose who can attend; they deny admission to or expel students who are LGBTQ, who are the “wrong” religion or who fail to fall in line with certain dogmas. Teachers and staff are subject to the same policies.

No American should be forced to subsidize institutions that discriminate or schools that serve a private religious interest. No one is disputing the right of houses of worship and religious groups to operate schools, but they should pay for them. Compelling taxpayers to pay for instruction in any religious doctrine is a modern-day form of church tax. It violates our longstanding principle of separation of church and state.

Take a look at AU’s new site about vouchers, and be sure to watch the short “Free To Be Me” video in which teenagers explain why only public schools deserve public support. You can also sign a petition to express your opposition to vouchers.

AU notes on the site that public schools are a unifying force in an increasingly divided society. Public schools educate children of all racial backgrounds. They educate Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, Humanists and others. They welcome young people who are straight, LGBTQ or uncertain about their sexuality or gender identity. Our public schools embrace children of all income levels. They’re subject to local control through democratically elected school boards. The men and women who work in them come from your community. They are your neighbors and friends. Despite what extremist groups like the AFA believe, they are your allies and partners, not your antagonists.

Visit our new site today, sign the petition and share it with family, neighbors and friends.  

P.S. AU President and CEO Rachel Laser had a great op-ed in two North Carolina newspapers yesterday warning about the problems with vouchers. Read it here.