Jesus understood that freedom and truth go hand in hand.

In John 8:31-32, Jesus taught his disciples that the “truth will set you free.”

Where there is no truth, there is no freedom. And this is true “on earth as it is in heaven.”

On earth, the Declaration of Independence set the United States apart from other nations in history, declaring that there are self-evident truths that are manifested from our Creator.

Primarily, we are all created equal and endowed with “unalienable Rights,” among which are “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The founders of our nation understood that truth and liberty are inseparably linked. Because of this, they nurtured two institutions of truth: religion and the public school.

Religion would remain separate from the state or government so that it could speak truth objectively and prophetically when liberty was threatened or compromised.

Out of respect for conscience, religion would no longer be coercive; rather, it would offer a persuasive influence of truth and life.

French political theorist Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in 1831 and made this observation. “Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but nevertheless it must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of free institutions.”

In his native France, de Tocqueville had seen religion and freedom at odds with each other. In the U.S., he saw them working together.

John Adams wrote, “Our Constitution is made for a moral and religious people.” Religion, set free from the corruption and power of government, had the opportunity to be an agent of truth and liberty.

As de Tocqueville observed, “I am certain that Americans hold religion to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

The public school is the other fundamental institution of our nation. Adams wrote, “The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense.”

Our founders understood that the success and viability of a democratic-republic depended upon an educated citizenry.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that “a system of general instruction, which shall reach every description of our citizens, from the richest to the poorest, as it was the earliest, so will it be the latest, of all the public concerns in which I shall permit myself to take an interest.”

Jefferson understood that “if a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Our nation is at a critical junction because of the condition of both religion and the public school.

Over these last weeks, the battle over public education has come to a boil. The focal point of the battle is between educators and legislators over the issues of funding.

But funding is only the symptom of the deeper issue: a commitment to the essential role of the public school in our state and nation.

Have we forgotten that ignorance and liberty cannot exist together? Have we forgotten that the only safe depository of our freedoms is found in the people, an educated people?

Have we forgotten that as a nation we must commit to educating the richest and the poorest of our citizens? And yes, the strongest and the weakest as well?

I do not pretend that the solutions are simple or that money is the only solution. There are many reasons that our public schools struggle. Reform is needed on many levels.

But, I am convinced of two things, educating our children is not an option and we are blessed with many teachers who give their lives to teach and model truth to our children. We must honor both.

Again, Jefferson wrote, “If children are untaught, their ignorance and vices will in future life cost us much dearer in their consequences than it would have done in their correction by a good education.”

The same is true today.

Religion and public education are our greatest weapons to protect and preserve our liberty.

It is time to recommit ourselves to the children of our state and nation, teaching them truth, equipping them to succeed in the modern work place and instilling in them the values and practices needed for this democratic-republic to carry on for generations to come.

The truth will set you free!

Wade Smith is pastor of First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma. A version of this article first appeared on FBC’s blog and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @PastorWadeSmith.

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