I'm an Evangelical Fighting for the Catholic School System | Opinion

As an evangelical Christian, I am not the person most would guess to be standing at the front of the march holding a sign in support of Catholic schools. After all, dating back to the Reformation, the Protestants and the Catholics have had more than a few substantive theological differences like, for example, indulgences, Church authority, the composition of the priesthood, sacraments and even eternal justification.

And yet, while we might disagree over things like the literal presence or salvation, we are totally unified when it comes to the important role of Catholic education in both America's past and future.

Right now, that rich and important role is facing ominous dueling threats that imperil its future: the Chinese coronavirus and radical liberal elected officials across the country.

Catholic Schools are the backbone of school choice for those wanting to opt-out of dysfunctional public institutions. As far back as March, the New York Daily News was already writing about the challenges that these schools were facing because forced lockdowns—and the millions of layoffs that followed—have made it incredibly difficult, perhaps impossible, for many struggling families to pay tuition. Now, almost two months later, the problem is only more severe.

With the balance of the 2019-20 school year clearly gone, attention turns toward fall and the upcoming 2020-21 academic year. How will families with unemployed parents be able to send their children to a parochial education when it means having to pay tuition for two successive school years without any income? The answer is that many won't be able to do so. They will be forced to return their children to failing public schools. This is especially true in inner cities, where minority communities and other marginalized groups are disproportionately impacted.

The sad truth is that, as this process plays out again and again across the country, many Catholic schools themselves are going to end up shuttered.

Catholic education in America is actually older than America herself, with the first such school having been established by the Spaniards in St. Augustine, Florida back in 1606. After the Constitution was ratified, growth of Catholic schools started in Maryland—the early Catholic stronghold in the U.S.—and branched out from there. By the 1960s, the high point of Catholic education in our country, there were 4.5 million elementary students enrolled in Catholic elementary schools, and over one million students enrolled in their high school counterparts.

Today there are approximately 1.8 million students enrolled in the Catholic system. The decline over time reflects both our nation's gradual movement toward a more secular culture, as well as the greatly increased cost of attending the school, in part because of ever-increasing property taxes (and other taxes)—the most common funding mechanism for public schools. Secular culture and the higher taxes are both rooted in collectivism, which is much more interested in ethical variations of Rousseau's "civil religion" than in the Christian virtues—which problematically espouse personal accountability, freedom and God's truth over that of the state's.

Catholic girls school procession in Scotland
Catholic girls school procession in Scotland Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Now, the state-mandated lockdowns, many of which will continue to stretch on into the summer months, threaten to finish what the secular statists have started. Without some sort of relief for tuition-paying families, we are going to lose Catholic schools by the time football season (hopefully) rolls around, and still more the next year. Opening back up a shuttered institution is not like opening up a summer home after a long winter. It's a difficult, almost impossible process. You can tear down the Catholic school system overnight, but it will take years to bring it back from the brink.

Religious people of all faiths and denominations have a vested stake in the health of these institutions. We must be unified in our appeal to state governors and large city mayors to provide forms of financial relief and subsidy to families who want to continue to send their children to private Catholic and other religious schools. In many locations, these schools provide the only viable alternative to the anti-religious, public education system.

Blue states and blue cities are the ones most hostile to private, religious education. That isn't a coincidence. As I have been warning, and will continue to warn, during this pandemic lockdown, people in power who are intent on controlling every aspect of our daily lives are using this crisis as a means to "take out" the remaining strongholds fighting against their secular hegemony. Religious schools are part of that Maginot Line holding back that secular dominance. We must stand together unified, no matter our own unique faith traditions or denominations, to help preserve their vital role in traditional American life.

Charlie Kirk is founder and president of Turning Point USA, the author of the New York Times bestseller The MAGA Doctrine: The Only Ideas That Will Win the Future, and host of The Charlie Kirk Show.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.