Education secretary Betsy DeVos wants to 'advance God's kingdom' through US school system

New cabinet member known for backing competition among schools and for donating heavily to Christian causes

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 08 February 2017 12:51 GMT
Education secretary Betsy DeVos wants to 'advance God's kingdom' through US school system

Donald Trump's new education secretary told an interviewer she wanted to "help advance God's kingdom" through the school system.

Betsy DeVos was speaking at The Gathering, an annual evangelical event, in 2001 when she was asked whether she was in favour of "destroying" public schools and sending all children into private education.

In an audio recording of the event, she said: "No. We are for good education, and for having every child have an opportunity for a good education. We both believe that competition and choices make everyone better."

She added she had " continue to think about where we can be the most effective, or make the most impact, in the culture in which we live today. Our desire is to ... confront the culture in which we all live today in ways which will continue to help advance God's kingdom."

Her husband, Dick DeVos, said he wanted "all parents to be able to educate their children in a school that reflects their worldview, and not each day sending their child to a school that may be reflecting a worldview quite antithetical, which unfortunately is the case in some places, to the worldview that they hold in their family".

Ms DeVos said: "This is not something that we sat back 10 years ago and calculated that this was something we needed to do. It really is something that's grabbed us by the heart over the years.

"Ultimately, if the system that prevails in the United States today had more competition, if there were other choices for people to make freely, then all of the schools would become better as a result. We're very strong proponents of fundamentally changing the way we approach education.

"There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education. Everyone in this room could give every single penny that they have and it wouldn't begin to touch what is currently spent on education every year in this country, and what is, in many cases, not efficiently spent or not well spent."

Her own Calvinist upbringing stressed the importance of being part of the wider world, she said.

The wealthy couple has spent significant sums over the years funding Christian schools, evangelical missions and conservative think-tanks, according to an analysis by Mother Jones.

A spokeswoman for Mr Trump's transition team told the magazine: "Mrs DeVos believes in the legal doctrine of the separation of church and state."

The influence of conservative Christianity in Mr Trump's administration came to the fore with the leak of an apparent draft executive order that would have enshrined specific religious beliefs in White House policy—including that premarital sex is wrong, that marriage "is or should be recognised" as between a man and a woman, that life begins at conception and that the words "male and female" refer to "immutable biological sex" assigned at birth.

The President was reportedly persuaded not to sign it by his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law Jared Kushner.

And on 2 February, Mr Trump reiterated his promise to "totally destroy" a 60-year-old rule that blocks tax-exempt religious groups from endorsing or opposing political candidates, known as the Johnson Amendment. Churches can lose that status if they overstep the mark.

He told religious leaders at the Washington National Prayer Breakfast: "Jefferson asked, 'Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?' Among those freedoms is the right to worship according to our own beliefs.

"That is why I will get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment and allow our representatives of faith to speak freely and without fear of retribution—I will do that."

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