Schools and Learning

A Bad Day At The Supreme Court – And A Vow To Keep Fighting

  Rob Boston

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that, under certain conditions, the state of Maine must extend taxpayer funding to private religious schools.

Given the state of the high court these days, we at Americans United knew this was coming. But it’s still a blow. The ruling in Carson v. Makin, drafted by Chief Justice John G. Roberts, is, in a word, appalling.

You can read the opinion on the court’s website if you want a taste of Roberts’ twisted logic. But I would recommend you take a look at the dissent authored by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. There is a lot of good language, but this passage leaps out:

“This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build,” Sotomayor wrote. “In 2017, I feared that the Court was ‘lead[ing] us … to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment.’  … Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”

She concluded, “With growing concern for where this Court will lead us next, I respectfully dissent.”

We should all be concerned where this court will lead us next. Still to come are rulings in a case that could re-open the door to school-sponsored prayer in public schools and another that could overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that established the right to legal abortion.

At a time when religious diversity is growing and more and more Americans are adopting a secular outlook, the high court seems determined to kowtow to Christian nationalists by forcing church and state into a shotgun wedding.

But the court’s vision of America will not work for the nation we are now and are becoming. Americans United is in this fight for the long haul and will work – decades if necessary – to rebuild the church-state wall brick by brick.

Americans United is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. Our founders would be appalled to see decisions like this. But our founders also faced daunting odds on issues like reproductive freedom, religiously based censorship and coercive forms of religion in public schools – and they prevailed on every one. In a press statement released yesterday, AU President and CEO Rachel Laser invoked their spirit.

“The court’s ultra-conservative bloc argued that refusing to tax citizens to fund religion is ‘discrimination against religion.’ It’s nothing less than gaslighting to cloak this assault on our Constitution in the language of non-discrimination,” Laser asserted. “If the conservative justices were concerned with discrimination, they would not have issued this opinion because it forces taxpayers to fund two religious schools that discriminate against LGBTQ families, one barring their admission and the other forcing them to undergo ‘counseling’ and renounce their sexual orientation or gender identity, or be expelled. One school’s stated educational objective is to ‘refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of God’s word’ – and now Muslim taxpayers will be forced to fund that school.”

But we’re not powerless, Laser noted: “This opinion hangs on Maine’s earlier decision to send public money to private schools. Such programs will force taxpayers to fund religious education and discrimination. It’s time to end all public funding for private schools, especially vouchers. Public funds should go to public schools.”

If states don’t have private school voucher and similar programs, they can’t be forced to include private religious schools in those programs. Use our online tool to urge your state legislators to shut down private school voucher programs—or never start one—and send your tax dollars to our public schools.

“Now, more than ever before, Americans United is committed to defending true religious freedom and public education from the assault mounted by religious extremists.”

Yesterday was a bad day. Brace yourself because there are more to come. Our pushback began yesterday, and we’re going to need your help and commitment.

America’s founders – and the founders of Americans United – expect nothing less.

Photo: Bangor Christian Schools. Photo by Sean Faircloth

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