In two cases this term, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority made it clear that there was little room for the separation of church and state in its regressive constitutional framework. For nearly 75 years, the Court has recognized that the two religious clauses of the First Amendment are essential to the protection of religious liberty: the Establishment Clause protects against government endorsement and imposition of religion, and the free exercise clause guarantees the right to practice your faith without harming others. No more. The court increasingly treated the Establishment Clause as a historic footnote, threatening both the independence of religion and the religious neutrality of the state.
In Carson v. Makinthe court ruled for the first time that a state to have to fund a religious activity as part of an educational assistance program. Maine’s Tuition Assistance Program pays students in rural areas without a public high school to attend another public or private school. Anxious to maintain a strong separation between religion and government, Maine has long prohibited the use of public funds to fund religious instruction and indoctrination. Many other states have adopted similar provisions, sometimes dating back two centuries. And for good reason: Avoiding mandatory taxpayer support of religion is at the heart of the Constitution’s religious freedom protections. In fact, James Madison, the primary author of the First Amendment, explicitly warned against public funding of religion, including religious education, because it would be the first step in allowing the government to force citizens to conform to the preferred faith of those in power.
For these reasons, the Supreme Court has previously respected the ability of states to restrict taxpayer support for religious educational activities. Indeed, for decades the court has rejected efforts to direct public funds to religious uses. In carson, however, six justices ignored these long-standing historical concerns between church and state. According to the court, state funding of religious indoctrination is not only permitted, but now obligatory in certain circumstances. The carson The majority therefore firmly placed the free exercise rights of the Christian plaintiffs over the settlement clause rights of the wider population.
A week later, he did the same in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, in which the court ruled in favor of a Christian public school football coach who prayed with his players while on duty. Ignoring the well-established precedent that prohibits school officials from participating in prayer with students, the majority adopted what a lower court judge called a “misleading account” told by Kennedy and his lawyers. The court called the coach’s prayers ‘silent’ and ‘personal’, but they weren’t; Coach Kennedy said his prayers audibly at the 50-yard line immediately after games, often surrounded by students.
The court said Kennedy had abandoned any intention of praying with the students, but in fact he repeatedly asked that he be allowed to continue praying with his students, saying he was “helping these kids to become better people.” “. The court also said no student was coerced into prayer, but the record shows that at least some players joined Kennedy in prayer only to avoid being separated from their team. And in any event, it misses the bigger point: as the court had recognized for more than a half centurySimply forcing students to choose between participating in teacher-led prayer, protesting, or avoiding certain school activities where official prayer takes place is inherently coercive and therefore unconstitutional.
Overall, court decisions in carson and kennedy lead us “to a place where the separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation”, as recognized by Judge Sonia Sotomayor in her carson CONTESTATION. These decisions suggest that the application of the Establishment Clause is somehow hostile to religion. But the opposite is true: many people of faith, including the Christians and members of minority denominations, strongly support the separation of church and state as central to religious liberty. They recognize, as did James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other of our nation’s founders, that religious freedom thrives best when government officials do not tip the scales toward their preferred religious beliefs.
Nevertheless, in recent years the Court has taken an approach that would see the lines between church and state hopelessly blurred, if not completely eliminated. The court allowed official, almost exclusively Christian prayer at government meetings and authorized the government to display giant religious symbols, such as a 40-foot Latin cross. The Supreme Court also sided with those who, in the name of religion, discriminate against clients, employees and recipients of government-funded social services. With this month’s rulings, the court has now demanded that government funds be diverted from a secular education program to support religious education and indoctrination and allowed school officials to impose religion on children. public school students. The judgment in kennedy is particularly troubling because, so far, the court has repeatedly recognized that students are impressionable, far more vulnerable to religious coercion, and therefore deserve the highest levels of constitutional protection. Instead, the court subverted the religious freedom of students to the religious demands of school staff.
The carson The decision could also open the door to broader public funding of religious activities more generally, and kennedy will likely encourage government employees in other contexts to claim a similar right to promote religion in the performance of their duties, even if it infringes on the religious freedom of others. This attack on the establishment clause is as reckless as it is infuriating. As Judge O’Connor cleverly observed 17 years ago,[a]At a time when we see everywhere in the world the violent consequences of the seizure of religious authority by the government… [o]Our respect for constitutional boundaries has shielded us from similar hardships, while allowing private religious practice to flourish.
She warned that “[t]Anyone who wants to renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly? This is a question that the majority of the Supreme Court did not deign to answer, perhaps because there is no good reason to abandon the separation of church and state, and every reason to make sure she stays strong.