Representative Lauren Boebert, a Republican from Colorado, told a religious congregation in her state last month: “I’m sick of this separation from church and state junk. It wasn’t in the Constitution, it was in a stinky letter and it means nothing like what they say it does. According to Boebert, “the church is supposed to run the government.”
A government church, the Church of England, is one of the reasons the colonies wanted freedom from England.
Founding Father and Third US President Thomas Jefferson would like a word. Jefferson wrote that “stinky letter” that Boebert mentions to Danbury Baptists in 1801, and he cited the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution. It is this clause that Jefferson described as “a wall of separation between church and state”. It’s clear States“Congress shall pass no law respecting the establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
A government church, the Church of England, is one of the reasons the colonies wanted freedom from England. Boebert often demonstrates it ignorance both of the Constitution and Christianitybut it is distressing that his belief that the government should help religion more seems to be shared by the conservative wing of the Supreme Court.
Its decisions this quarter in Carson v. Malkin and Kennedy v. Bremerton School District suggest that the six conservatives who make up the supermajority of the court are more than happy to tear down that wall that Jefferson was talking about. These two rulings, one making private religious schools in Maine eligible for public tuition reimbursement funds and the other allowing a school official to pray publicly at school, portend more trouble for public education in America and bring us closer to Christianity as our de facto state. religion.
Some have said that the court is chisel away to the establishment clause. I say he uses a hammer to get rid of it.
This court elevates the free exercise clause above the establishment clause and therefore decides that religious belief and practice must override the government’s ban on promoting religion. But what does this mean concretely?
Carson v. Malkin means religious schools in Maine can participate in that state’s program school voucher programs, which Catholics and Evangelicals have long wanted. Such school choice the programs were designed to circumvent and eventually bankrupt the public school system. Betsy DeVos, the education secretary during former President Donald Trump’s tenure, has been a leading voice in promoting school choice and voucher programs, and with last month’s Supreme Court ruling , there will be increasing pressure for such programs. Republican lawmakers introduced and promoted a federal school voucher programwhich, if successful, will further erode public education by sending public funds to private schools allowed to discriminate on the basis of gender, race or creed.
Since Engel c. Vital, a 1962 ruling that found that school prayer violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution, Republicans and conservative church leaders claimed that a lack of school prayer caused the decline of the countries, and they looked for ways to bring prayer back into schools. Kennedy v. Bremerton means the free exercise of religion in public spaces, including schools, is permitted. Writing for the majority, Judge Neil Gorsuch described plaintiff Joseph Kennedy, a public high school football coach, as having been fired for praying quietly, but Judge Sonia Sotomayor calls Gorsuch in his dissent and points out that Kennedy prayed constantly in public, on the 50-yard line of the football field, and with the participation of students who gathered around him.
Both rulings allow Christianity to serve as a “state” religion, but what happens when Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others demand the same consideration? How will the court prevent favoring Christianity?
These are all important issues that will likely be addressed in future litigation, but given that state and federal courts have been stacked by conservatives, we’re likely to see the United States move ever closer to a religion of state. As Judge Sotomayor wrote in his CONTESTATION in the case of school prayer, “This decision does a disservice to schools and the young citizens they serve, as well as to our nation’s long-standing commitment to separation from the Church and of State. I respectfully disagree.
Stay tuned. There will be many more prayers at school sporting events, as well as more faith-affiliated schools funded with your taxpayers’ money through vouchers. Boebert will always be wrong about the founders’ intentions, but not so bad about what today’s courts will allow.