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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 49

The State's Right to Tax for Public Schools

The State's Right to Tax for Public Schools.

Now, from what I have said, it clearly follows that the State has a right to tax all its tax-payers for the support of public schools:—

1.Because the child's right to an elementary education is a joint claim upon the parent and the State; and the State can only discharge its own part of the obligation by maintaining a public school system.page 98
2.Because the State finds the public school system to be an absolute condition of its own existence as a free society, charged with the protection of all individual rights, including the rights of children as individuals.
4.Because the school taxes are collected for the sup-port of the school system as a whole, of which all taxpayers alike receive the benefit through the perpetuation of the State as the protector of all individual rights, including their own. If the State has the right to tax all for any purpose, it has the right to tax them all for the public schools, which are the indispensable condition of its own continued existence. The school tax, paid by each tax-payer, is not the payment of his separate bill for the instruction of his own child, for he may be childless, yet justly taxed all the same. The school lax is only the just assessment on each tax-payer of his share of the cost incurred in maintaining the existence of the State which protects his individual rights in all their multiplicity. It is a distorted, false and wretchedly contracted view of the matter to see nothing in the school tax but a bill for the tuition of the tax-payer's own children. On the contrary, it is only a part of his general contribution to the support of the State itself.

That it is not only the right, but the duty, of the State to support a system of public schools, which can only be clone by the impartial taxation of all, is no new doctrine. Daniel Webster said : "The power over education is one of the powers of public police belonging essentially to government. It is one of those powers the exercise of which is indispensable to the preservation of society, to its integrity, and its healthy action. It is evident, therefore, that popular cultivation, as diffuse and general as the numbers comprising the Republic, is indispensable to the preservation of our republican forms; and hence arises the great constitutional duty of the government. It is the page 99 duty of self-preservation, according to the mode of its existence, for the sake of the common good."

Barsdow, the great-grandfather of Professor Max M#x00FC;ller, about a hundred years ago taught the true doctrine on this subject in Germany. The German Biographia, recently published by the Bavarian government, says, in its life of Barsdow: "This one great principle he established: that national education is a national duty; that national education is a sacred duty; and that to leave national education to chance, church, or charity, is a national sin! Another principle which followed, in fact as a matter of course, as soon as the first principle was granted, was this: that in national schools, in schools supported by the nation at large, you can only teach that on which we all agree; hence, when children belong to different sects, you cannot teach theology."

On this great right and duty of the State to perpetuate itself, and on the impossibility of its doing so, when its fundamental basis is the equal rights of all individuals, except by means of a State education which shall be universal and secular, rests the great positive argument for the public school system, and the justification of the State in taxing all tax-payers equitably and impartially for its support. It is no wrong to any man to tax him for this purpose, even though he be childless; it is no wrong to tax him for it, even though he prefer to send his child elsewhere than to the public schools, as many besides Catholics do; for the protection of his individual rights in this free Republic is a full and fair equivalent of his money. When the Catholic conscience, which is only the conscience of the Pope enforced on all Catholics, and not the free, independent consciences of Catholic parents as individuals, claims exemption from this just school tax, it is a selfish, blind and arrogant attempt to get the benefits of this free government without paying for what they get.

page 100

It is a conscience essentially unreasonable and unjust; and reason and justice, therefore, command the American people to follow unflinchingly the better-instructed con-science which has built, and will still sustain, the grand American system of public schools. It only remains to make them absolutely just by making them absolutely secular.