Why religious schools shouldn’t get funding

Prof. Pettigrew: It’s not just the anti-gay agenda.



Canada’s Christian post-secondary institutions just can’t stay away from controversy. It seems like only yesterday, everyone (including this guy) was talking about the CAUT’s reports condemning various institutions for their lack of academic freedom.

More recently, the law community has had its briefs in a knot over Trinity Western’s push to get a law school. Can a school that requires adherence to a rigid code of belief really educate good lawyers whose very stock in trade is free and open discussion? A lot of people think not.

And now New Brunswick’s Crandall University has raised eyebrows for getting millions in federal funding. In fact, religious universities in Canada received some $20 million from the Harper Government’s 2009 Knowledge Infrastructure scheme.

And all this as provincial governments across the country are cutting funding for public universities. I’m sure New Brunswick’s public universities, whose funding is being cut, would love to have some of the money that Crandall is getting.

Most of the case against expanding or funding such institutions is that they expressly condemn homosexuality as part of their fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. This kind of critique is right in a sense—no institution should discriminate against gays and lesbians and any that do should not get public money—but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Focusing on the homophobia of religious schools is safe because it allows the critic to maintain or imply that he has no beef with religion per se, and in turn imply that public support of religious schools would be fine if they would just drop the anti-gay stuff.

Let’s call it praising with faint condemnation.

So let me be more direct. No Canadian public money should go to Crandall, or any other educational institution whose aims are explicitly religious. Not one penny. Well, nickel.

It goes much deeper than sexuality. The anti-homosexual positions of such schools is just a symptom of what’s more profoundly wrong here. Fundamentalist institutions like Crandall—and let’s be clear, that’s what they are—necessarily divorce themselves from reality and thus insulate themselves from full and rational discourse and debate.

Defenders of such religious schools like to imagine that they can work together with “secular” universities and complement them. But secular is what universities should be. We don’t balance astronomy classes with lessons in how to predict the future using astrology. We don’t hire psychics to complement the work of psychologists; and we don’t offer courses in healing with crystal vibrations to go alongside courses in geology.

Secular just means reality-based. Another word for “secular university” is “university.” And university funding shouldn’t be going anywhere else.

Todd Pettigrew is an Associate Professor of English at Cape Breton University.


Why religious schools shouldn’t get funding

  1. I find it very strange also that religious private schools are also getting much more public funding than non religious private schools, the per requite is that you must believe in a fictional character to get funding for your school, what does religion have to do with education?

  2. “Another word for “secular university” is “university.” And university funding shouldn’t be going anywhere else.”

    Right because universities like Saint Mary’s and Saint Francis Xavier were obviously founded by secular humanists intent on educating pupils in a secular matter. Dr. Pettigrew displays his historical ignorance with the blanket statement quoted above. Up until very recently most universities were explicitly religious. In fact his very job title “Professor” has religious connotations.

    • David: “Historical connotations” does not imply contemporary definition. The world has evolved since the nineteenth century.

  3. Good article. The fact is that as much as religious schools can deliver a quality education, it will be done to some extent with a particular religious viewpoint. Science is sometimes substituted with religious pseudoscience, history is sometimes taught in a way which either ignores or rewrites troubling events, and most importantly, religion is not taught comparatively but strongly favouring one viewpoint or excluding all others. Government money, scarce as it is for education and coming as it does from all Canadians, should not be going to promote one religion over others.

    • As someone who actually went to a Christian liberal arts university (TWU), I feel qualified to respond at least anecdotally to this comment.

      Psuedoscience: I’m assuming this critique is based on the discussion of origins (Pretty sure the anat/phys, chem, physics and math classes etc. were pretty standard university curriculums). At TWU, I witnessed and took part in many more discussions about origins of the universe, philosophical and theological, including the merits and demerits of evolutionary biology, than I hear/see happening at my current institution (UBC). This included a pro-evolution forum, and lively debates in the school newspaper. There are lots of creationists at TWU, and lots of theistic evolutionists, and lots of straight-up evolutionists. The discussions reflect this. All these opinions are usually represented at secular universities, they just aren’t open for discussion.

      History: In my western history class, we covered the Greeks to WWII, and I believe the thematic theme my excellent professor presented was feminist history and the liberation of women. The textbook was secular (as were the novels I read in English, my math book, and all my Comm curriculum). I don’t remember anyone talking about how great the crusades were or playing apologist for violent popes.

      My Western religion class was comparative, not theological, and I’ve heard the same about the Eastern class.

      I have no comment on whether or not gov’t funds should go to Christian Univeristies because I don’t know how I feel about it yet. But I can say the academic environment is challenging, intelligent and frank. I won’t pretend that my education wasn’t shaped by a Christian worldview, but I became less fundamental by attending TWU, and got the practical critical thinking and skills training I needed to be a contributing member of society. I wish I saw more articles and opinions that take into account the actual experiences of those of us who attended as opposed to broad assumptions.

  4. Hmmm…this is a kind of a preachy regression into well-travelled ground in Pettigrew-land. Where to start?

    First, it’s just not true that “secular = reality based”; to simply assert that without argument begs waaaaaay too many questions and certainly does not model the kind of rational discourse that Pettigrew claims is precluded by private universities. C’mon Pettigrew–you’re better than that!

    Second, there is nothing about schools founded on, for example, a Christian humanist vision that requires them to “necessarily divorce themselves from reality and thus insulate themselves from full and rational discourse and debate.” In fact, if religious belief can possibly be rational–a point which many contemporary philosophers of theistic, atheistic, and agnostic persuasions are willing to endorse–then one can make a good argument to the conclusion that it’s the secular humanist university which is impoverished and precludes rational discourse.

    Third, on any plausible definition of “university,” schools like my own Trinity Western certainly count as one. And if public funding for universities is contingent on the criterion of serving the public good, then TWU satisfies that one as well.

    So, in Christian charity, here’s some free advice. There’s an interesting and important discussion to be had about the morality of community standards at faith-based institutions–particularly given the legalization of same-sex marriage and progressively shifting attitudes in church and society. But overblown, ill-informed, fundamentalist rhetoric–from religious believers or detractors–doesn’t make any contribution whatsoever to that discussion.