June 10, 2022

Peter Greene: The Case That May Further Break Down The Wall Between Church And Education

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The Supreme Court is poised to release their ruling in Carson v. Makin, a case that could create a state obligation to spend taxpayer money on discriminatory religious schooling. Peter Greene offered this overview of the case when it was first argued before the court.

The Supreme Court appears poised to further erode the wall between church and state in the case Carson v. MakinThe case represents the latest step forward in a legal strategy that has been unfolding for some time.

The most recent example was Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, decided over a year ago. Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue extended the precedent set by Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, a case that for the first time required “the direct transfer of taxpayers’ money to a church.” Historically, the free exercise clause of the First Amendment has taken a back seat to the establishment clause; in other words, the principle was that the government’s mandate to avoid establishing any “official” religion meant that it could not get involved in financing religious institutions, including churches or church-run private schools.

This has been a big stumbling block for the school voucher movement, because the vast majority of private schools that stand to benefit from vouchers are private religious schools. In fact, where school vouchers have been established, they are overwhelmingly used to fund religious schools.

But for several years, fans of school choice have been pushing the argument that a religious school is not free to exercise its religious faith if it does not get to share in taxpayer dollars. The wall between church and state has thus been characterized as discrimination against religion. Turns out you can’t be really free without taxpayer funding.

Maine’s situation is unusual. Because many rural communities do not provide full K-12 public school systems, Maine offers tuition to the school of the family’s choice—unless that school is a private religious school. Unlike many states, Maine never adopted an infamously anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment.

The brief provides a closer look at the two private schools involved which helps illustrate the stakes. Bangor Christian Schools require adherence to a code of conduct; trans or gay students will be expelled, even if celibate. Their religious indoctrination is inseparable from their academic instruction. A fifth grade social studies objective is to “recognize God as Creator of the world,” while a ninth grade objective is to “refute the teachings of the Islamic religion with the truth of God’s word.” Teachers at BCS must certify that they are born again Christians.

Temple Academy is an extension of the Centerpoint Community Church. TA is unlikely to admit students that do not come from a Christian family; that family must sign a Family Covenant saying they agree with TA’s views on abortion, marriage, and homosexuality. Again, only born again Christians may be hired to teach; teachers also sign an employment agreement acknowledging that the Bible says that God considers “homosexuals and other deviants as perverted.”

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