A faith-based advocate for public education will swing through the Volunteer State as part of a broad, national push in support of education as a public trust.
Charles Johnson, founder and executive director of Pastors for Children, will speak at least six times across Tennessee the first week of October.
Johnson will speak in Chattanooga on Oct. 2, in Knoxville and Pleasant Hill on Oct. 3, in Nashville and Columbia on Oct. 4 and in Memphis on Oct. 5.
Pastors for Tennessee Children is a broad coalition – pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders – that advocates for public education, assists schools and advances legislation, according to its mission statement.
Johnson, an ordained Baptist minister, previously served as pastor in multiple states and as a visiting professor of preaching at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology.
His religious credentials run deep, as does his group’s opposition to school vouchers, which Johnson and others argue run counter to the idea of public education as a public trust.
Johnson was a featured speaker at the Angela Project 2018, a conference focused on racism held in Louisville, Kentucky, earlier this month.
“The public school is a great equalizer for all children of every ethnicity,” said Johnson in a video interview with EthicsDaily.com at the conference. “And racial equality is advanced by public education in America.”
“People of faith embrace public education as a provision of God’s common good,” Johnson continued, “as a basic, core, fundamental, social-justice expression in society.”
“Even from a secular perspective, people of morality understand that education is a basic human right,” he added. Johnson and Pastors for Children argue that various efforts are afoot to privatize education, thus turning a child’s education into a market commodity.
Pastors for Children, including its Tennessee affiliate, works on countering any such legislation that commodifies the constitutional right to an education.
Article XI, Section 12, of the Tennessee state constitution reads: “The state of Tennessee recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support. The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.”
The group also, however, promotes local and direct support of public schools by faith leaders and houses of worship.
When Johnson speaks of this “wrap-around care” – offering support services like tutoring, school supplies and simple encouragement – he speaks quickly of best practices, constitutionally speaking.
“There’s a right way to do that and a wrong way to do it,” said Johnson in the interview with EthicsDaily.com. “We do not believe in violating God’s gift of religious liberty. That’s another social justice provision: religious liberty, church-state separation. We don’t belive in using the public institution, suuported by the government, to advance any religious expression.”