We're hearing a lot of talk about how the elevation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court might affect the rights of women and LGBTQ Americans. But there’s another group whose rights could take a hit as well: America’s schoolchildren.
Kavanaugh has an extensive track record on education issues – and it’s not good. As Americans United detailed in a new report, Kavanaugh, while in private practice in 2000, authored a brief on behalf of two far-right members of Congress in a school prayer case pending before the Supreme Court. The case dealt with school-sponsored but ostensibly student-led prayers being recited over a loudspeaker before football games at a Texas high school, and Kavanaugh made the extreme argument that not only should the prayers be permitted, in some cases they might be required.
Kavanaugh went on to criticize the Supreme Court’s line of decisions striking down school-sponsored prayers at graduation ceremonies and at the beginning of the school day – rulings that stretch back nearly 60 years. He asserted that these prayers could be upheld on the grounds that they “are deeply rooted in our history and tradition.”
What about the kids who might not want to participate in someone else’s prayers? What about youngsters grappling with undue pressure to take part in religious worship when they don’t want to? What about the right of parents to decide what religion, if any, their children are raised in? Kavanaugh showed zero concern for any of that. (Thankfully, the Supreme Court rejected Kavanaugh’s argument and struck down the school’s prayer practice 6-3.)
Evidence also indicates that Kavanaugh is a fan of vouchers and other forms of taxpayer aid to religious institutions. In his brief in the Texas school prayer case, Kavanaugh attacked high court rulings that prohibit the use of taxpayer money to pay for religious activities, calling those decisions “of questionable validity.”
In a speech delivered just last year to the American Enterprise Institute, Kavanaugh opined that “religious schools and religious institutions” should be able to receive “funding or benefits from the government so long as the funding [is] pursuant to a neutral program that, among other things, include[s] religious and nonreligious institutions alike.” (In plain English, he said that if the government funds secular institutions, it might also be required to fund a host of religious ones.)
Kavanaugh’s legal theory, if extrapolated, could wipe out the no-aid-to-religion amendments that curb taxpayer support to religion in 38 state constitutions. Indeed, some people are already salivating at that idea.
“Please think of the children” has become a cliché and sometimes even a punchline, but in this case, it’s something you need to do. Ninety percent of American children attend public schools. Those kids deserve well-funded institutions that don’t have to compete with private religious schools, which are unaccountable to the public, for scarce tax dollars. Our students also deserve public schools that are free from religious coercion and pressure.
Kavanaugh seems to be oblivious to the important role secular public education – a system that welcomes all youngsters regardless of what they believe or don’t believe about religion – plays in our society. That’s a pretty compelling reason why you should tell your senators to reject his nomination.