Thursday, December 09, 2021

Church State Separation and the Free Exercise Clause

The 6 Conservative Supreme Court Justices (CNN)
It’s hard to believe. But it’s quite possible that Yeshiva high schools and day schools may be getting some help with their financial problems. And in the process tuition paying parents might get some relief from their high tuition bills. From of all places - the government. In the form of funding non public educational institutions. From Hamodia: 

The U.S. Supreme Court appeared ready to rule that religious schools can’t be excluded from a Maine program that offers tuition aid for private education, a decision that could ease religious organizations’ access to government funding.

After nearly two hours of arguments Wednesday, the court’s six conservative-leaning justices seemed convinced that Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from its tuition program is unconstitutional.

I never thought I would see the day when a fair approach to private and parochial school education would be possible. And yet... here it is. With a conservative majority of 6 (out of 9) Supreme Court Justices - this might actually happen. Or at least our schools won’t be blocked by an interpretation of the 1st Amendment that prevents it. Whether any tangible results come out if this remains to be seen. Most state budgets are already bloated and running deficits. Adding this expense in unlikely at  this point. But once public funds are allowed to pay for private and parochial school education, anything is possible.

I never bought the argument that spending government funds on Limudei Chol (secular studies) was somehow a violation of the the 1st Amendment’s separation clause. Paying teachers to teach secular subjects in parochial schools does no such thing. It just pays teachers to teach the same things they do in public schools. 

On the other hand denying funds to those schools may actually violate the free exercise clause in the sense that it discriminates against parents who choose a private school for religious reasons that  have nothing to do with the secular curriculum taught there. That seems to be the thinking of the 6 conservative Justices. Which makes perfect sense to me. Always did.

The counter argument is that there is always religious influence in those schools even in secular studies - never held much sway for me. There is absolutely nothing religious about an English, math, or history curriculum.  

What I most commonly hear complaints about is that religious schools would not teach the Theory of Evolution as the origin of species.I understand that concern. Religion based schools tend to teach God as the Creator of all living species. Rejecting the notion that sudden random mutations, the struggle for existence, natural selection (often called survival of the fittest) and environmental niches are solely responsible for all of animal and human existence.  

I don’t see a reason to deny funding for teaching the religious side of species origin. Nor do I see a real problem with the Theory of Evolution being taught as possibly God’s method of creating species. There is not a doubt in my mind that evolution is a fact of nature. Only those ignorant of - or willfully blind to the reality of nature would dispute that. All we have to do is look at virus mutations. Only the ‘fittest’ survive the vaccines and are thereby able to reproduce without any interference.

Hanna Sacks Beis Yaakov High School actually demonstrates micro evolution as part of their biology curriculum by running experiments with bacteria.  A highly respected biology teacher I know that taught there many years ago told me this herself . I assume that is still the case. But I digress. 

But - let us even grant that paying science teachers in parochial schools might cross the ‘separation’  line. But that leaves an entire host of secular subjects being taught exactly the way they are in public schools. Not funding that amounts to discrimination in my mind. Which is unconstitutional. 

The teachers unions vigorously oppose funding religious schools using the separation argument successfully each time. I’m sure they are doing the same here - as do the 3 liberal Justices. There is a lot of money at stake which is already stretched beyond its limits. Adding the financial  burden of parochial schools into the mix can only hurt the public schools that are woefully underfunded. Whether some of those schools are worthy any funding at all is a good question but beyond the scope of this post. 

Be that as it may, violating the constitution is not the way to assure they get the funding they need.  Educational funds should be distributed equally to all schools private and public – as long as those funds are used for non religious purposes. 

It appears that the Supreme Court is going in that direction. Most observers believe that a decision will not happen until June of next year. We shall see. But at this point I am optimistic.