The Mark of Blaine
Nevada has ranked last in education four years in a row in a national survey of child well-being conducted by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. What to do about that sorry outcome remains a matter of sometimes scalding dispute.
Some Nevada parents no longer have the patience to await another systemic fix; and in legislation passed last June, Republican lawmakers offered them a way to opt out. The state began one of the nation’s broadest school choice programs this September, allowing parents to establish educational savings accounts for their children in lieu of attending public school.
The program was quickly challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, which argues that the proposed disbursements to parents violate the Nevada constitution’s “robust protections against the use of public funds for religious education.” The amendment that provides that “robust protection” was added in 1880. It was among similar additions to state constitutions, passed at a time of rising anti-Catholic bigotry, known as “little Blaine amendments”—named for the Maine politician James G. Blaine, who proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution with the aim of denying public resources to “sectarian” education. Noting that odious lineage, the Washington-based Becket Fund filed a friend of the court brief defending the Nevada program on Oct. 28.
Other Western nations have long funded or subsidized both public and religious schools. Could the Nevada option offer the United States an opportunity to reconsider its bigoted 19th-century denial of support to Catholic schools? A Nevada court, and perhaps ultimately the U.S. Supreme Court, may have to make that call. But families in Nevada are already beginning to vote with their feet: 3,600 of them at last count.
Other People’s Families
What may be history’s longest experiment in population control ended in late October with China’s announcement that it will abandon its infamous “one child” policy. Chinese families are still limited to two children, so the experiment is not quite complete, but the demise of the uniquely harsh “one child” rule is welcome news. Not only did the policy create a severe gender imbalance in Chinese society; it also led to a multitude of horrors, from forced abortions to involuntary sterilizations. It is incredible that the international community allowed these gross human rights violations to continue for so long with so little protest.
Or maybe it isn’t. The Chinese policy was a natural, if extreme, outgrowth of the international population control movement, which sees the “population bomb” as a dire environmental threat that must be addressed. These warnings often come from elite quarters of the developed world and are usually aimed at the poorest corners of the developing world. China may be the most prominent example, but it is not the only state to fall prey to these cruel ideas. It is now clear that population control measures have an especially harsh effect on women, a tragic fact that public opinion is finally beginning to notice.
Pope Francis received criticism this summer when, in “Laudato Si’,” he rejected population control as a path to environmental sustainability. Yet he is right when he argues, “To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some is one way of refusing to face the issues.” A society that seeks to preserve its way of life by controlling the growth of other people’s families of families—at home or abroad—has much to answer for. China’s policies may have been widely vilified, but they did not develop in a vacuum.
Given the landslide victory that voters gave the Justice and Development Party in the parliamentary elections in Turkey on Nov. 1, there are concerns that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use the electoral returns as an excuse to further his aims by consolidating all political power in himself. His goal seems to be to rewrite the nation’s Constitution to reflect that fact.
Ever since he lost a parliamentary majority back in June, Mr. Erdogan has strategized about how to restore that lost power and, more important, how to enhance and keep it. After calling for the snap election back in August, he has taken several steps to do just that. He has renewed the war against the Kurds. He has proceeded to systematically curtail or eliminate in every possible way political opposition and public dissent, specifically by cracking down on all forms of social media as well as the traditional press. And he has not been averse to using tear gas and water cannons as well.
As a public demonstration of his enhanced stature, Mr. Erdogan has built a 1,150-room presidential palace, at a cost of some $600 million, which is 30 times the size of the White House, complete with a laboratory with a staff of five, whose sole purpose is to be presidential “food tasters”—all of which speaks volumes about the president and his conception of leadership.
To some, Mr. Erdogan is guilty of “pulling a Putin”—consolidating power in a manner unworthy of his position as the head of a secular democracy that straddles both East and West. The nearly 80 million Turkish citizens deserve better.