Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The Good News and the Bad News

The Supreme Court of the United States (Towleroad)
You win some and you lose some. That is what a couple of Supreme Court decisions mean to both the country and the religious freedom it stands for.

First the bad news.

The defeat came in a 6-3 decision to apply the 1964 Civil Rights Act to the LGBTQ community. Surprisingly - conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch speaking for the majority said that the word ‘sex’ in the language of that law - which bans discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex - applies to sexual orientation or sexual identity too.

In my view that is a debatable interpretation of the kind often used by the liberal factions on the court. I understand why discrimination against anyone for those reasons is unjust. But I question why a ‘strict constructionist’ like Gorsuch would allow himself to veer off that path because of such feelings.

From a moral perspective, I actually agree with that decision. But I disagree with the universal application of it in cases of religious institutions. If a religious school hires an openly gay teacher who is ‘loud and proud’, only to come out of the closet after being hired - they will not be able to fire him or her.

Religious schools are about more than teaching what is on the written page. It is about teachers being role models. An openly gay individual who proudly lives a lifestyle that is clearly forbidden by the Torah in the severest of terms cannot be a role model for religious students.

Discriminating against them in general is one thing. It is wrong and ought to be taught that way to religious students. Every human being is created ‘B’Tzelem Elokim – in God’s image and to be treated accordingly. But to be prevented from firing someone that takes pride in that kind of lifestyle is not the message a religious school wants to be sending. This Supreme Court ruling means that once such an individual is hired, a school will not be able to do anything about it.

Not sure how Orthodox Jewish day schools and Yeshiva high schools will handle this.

Now the good news.

The other Supreme Court decision is a win for freedom of religion and the Orthodox Jewish community that places a high value on religious education. Although those who opposed the law being reviewed - saw it as a violation of the ‘separation clause’ of the first amendment, the Supreme Court ruled otherwise. 

At stake was a policy whereby state scholarship programs that allow donors to religious school scholarships to use some of it as a tax credit - deducting it from their tax obligation. That was actually implemented in Illinois a few years ago - and if I remember correctly it had been challenged on constitutional grounds. A similar law  in Montana was challenged in the Supreme court and ruled constitutional - striking down a lower court ruling that it was unconstitutional.

Most Orthodox Jews that have children in the religious schools know how prohibitive school tuitions are. The ability of  the vast majority of parents to pay full tuition is a virtual impossibility if they have the typical size family of 3-5 children. And there are a great many parents that have a lot more. Some as many as 10 children or more. The cost per child times the number of children is more that even well paid educated professionals can afford.  

Just to cite an example, if tuition is $20,000 per child and you have 5 children, your tuition bill will be $100,000. Except for the very wealthy, how many parents can afford that? Obviously almost every parent in a school will receive tuition assistance of some kind. But they are nevertheless squeezed for every penny they are deemed to be able to afford by the school. The school has no choice - needing to meet a budget that will provide top quality teachers that every parent wants. This is a crisis that has yet to be solved. 

But the Supreme Court decision will help. Because those among us that pay state income tax can use some of it to help pay for that budget – in states that have such programs.

This is good news. Like  I said. You win some and you lose some.