Written by Don Byrd

School vouchers are expected to be a hotly debated issue in Tennessee next year. Because it would mean public money could be used for religious school tuition, religious leaders are lining up to advocate on both sides. The Baptist Joint Committee has long opposed school vouchers as an improper use of state funds to aid religious education, a bad idea for both the state and the church.

As this Chalkbeat report indicates, many clergy are starting to express this concern, including in Tennessee. The Rev. Charles Foster, a Baptist minister from Texas, has been on a four-day statewide speaking tour drawing attention to this issue and educating the public on the dangers school vouchers pose to religion and religious liberty. Here is an excerpt:

Johnson’s mission is starkly different from church leaders who want public funding available for religious and private schools. He is a fierce advocate of separation of church and state, as well as local control of schools and education funding.

“We want full funding of our public schools, and we are against privatization that diverts God’s common good money to underwrite private schools,” he said. “The public should stay public, and the private should stay private.”

His advocacy model is being replicated in Oklahoma, Kentucky, Mississippi, and now Tennessee, where Johnson is rallying local pastors this week during stops in Knoxville, Nashville, and Pleasant Hill. He’ll close out his tour on Friday at First Baptist Church of Memphis, the city where some Tennessee lawmakers sought last year to create a pilot voucher program. That effort failed, but groups on both sides expect some type of voucher legislation will be introduced next January, when a newly elected General Assembly convenes under a new administration replacing outgoing Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

For more on why school vouchers are a bad idea for both the church and the state, see this 2011 column from the BJC’s Holly Hollman.