How the Supreme Court’s decision on religious schools just eroded the separation between church and state

How the Supreme Court’s decision on religious schools just eroded the separation between church and state

School-choice supporters say that state laws prohibiting public money from being used for religious institutions is discriminatory, while opponents say that they protect the doctrine of “separation of church and state” that has been interpreted as the meaning of the establishment clause and free exercise clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” To be fair, the wall of separation between church and state never really existed. But for a while, there was a fairly high fence. It protected religious institutions from entanglements with the government, and vice versa. In countries without such separation, state institutions like schools can become instruments of the state’s preferred religion — as the writers of the U.S. Constitutions observed in England and other European countries. England is, however, an instructive case of what can happen over time. The entanglement between the two institutions initially bolsters the church, but genuine religious beliefs are harder to impose than is nominal adherence to those beliefs. So Americans became more religious over time as they voluntarily brought church attendance and religious teachings into their lives. But the English became less so, even while maintaining state financial assistance for church schools to this day. In the United States, that high fence of separation between church and state existed from approximately the mid-1940s through the mid-1980s. It transformed our essentially Protestant public schools into secular institutions attended by a cross-section of the population, including strongly religious families. That seeming contradiction of ...
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