Editor’s Note: This week “The Wall of Separation” is concluding its series recounting the top 10 church-state stories from 2022. Today’s post looks at the Supreme Court’s assault on church-state separation.
Within the space of a few weeks in 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court unleashed a devastating series of assaults on church-state separation.
The attack began in earnest on June 21, when the high court ruled that taxpayers in Maine could, under certain conditions, be required to support private religious education. Three days later, the court struck again, ditching 49 years of precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade and declaring there is no constitutional right to abortion. On June 27, the court issued another appalling opinion, ruling that a high school football coach in Washington state had the right to pray at the 50-yard line after games, even though students felt compelled to join.
This trifecta of alarming rulings, along with an earlier decision compelling officials in Boston to fly a Christian flag over city hall, greatly eroded the church-state wall – AU President and CEO Rachel Laser called it the “greatest loss of religious freedom in our country in generations.”
Americans Want Church-State Separation, Not Christian Nationalism
If there’s a silver lining here, it’s that these disturbing decisions laid bare all that’s at stake for the American people – and they demonstrate how Christian nationalism has invaded the highest court in the land. Americans don’t agree with what the Supreme Court has done. Polls show support for separation remains high. The Pew Forum noted this year that its recent surveys make it clear “that there is far more support for the idea of separation of church and state than opposition to it among Americans overall.”
So where do we go from here? Americans United is calling for a national recommitment to separation of church and state, a campaign you’ll be hearing more about next year. AU is preparing to defend abortion rights in court, and our newly updated “Know Your Rights” guides aim to remind students, parents and staffers in public schools that they can’t be compelled to take part in religious worship against their will.
We must say bluntly that these Supreme Court decisions are wrong: They are wrong for the America we are, and they’re certainly wrong for the America we are becoming. As pluralism in the U.S. expands and growing numbers of our people step away from organized religion, court rulings extending preference and privilege to conservative Christianity and embracing a theory of religious freedom that subjects others to harm or reduces their rights will be increasingly unworkable.
Americans United intends to do all it can to ensure that these rulings are aberrations that won’t long mar our legal landscape and offend our national values.