Supreme Court Takes On Separation Of Church And State

Supreme Court Takes On Separation Of Church And State

It is enshrined in American law that there is no one official state religion. All are free to practice the faith of their choice without interference so long as that faith does not interfere with the rights of other citizens.

Since the time that that law was ratified into the Constitution, the United States has developed a number of school systems: public, private, and parochial. Up until recent years, taxpayer money financed public schools only, and the private and parochial schools operated on their own.

That way, the private and parochial schools did not have to follow any dictates from the government that violated the ideology espoused by the faith or board of trustees of the schools. Yes, parents were paying for education twice, but they deemed it necessary for their own reasons.

With the advent of “charter schools,” which act like private schools, but are really publicly financed, the question has come up of private and parochial schools receiving tax-payer funds via vouchers. Now, three sets of parents in the state of Maine where not all school districts have a high school are pushing another idea.

Maine, with a large area and small student population, pays for students to attend private, secular schools in districts that don’t have a public high school. Now, some religious schools are demanding taxpayer dollars for their students regardless of the provision in Maine’s constitution that prohibits public funding for religious education.

Both sides recognize the fundamental legal principle that government must be “neutral” (Thomas Jefferson used the term “impartial”) vis-à-vis different religions or between religion and no religion. The question is how to apply that principle.

Maine argues that it is willing to pay for any schools offering the same education available in public schools, a secular education with a proscribed curriculum. The state is “neutral” in who it pays for such a secular education, but it is not required to expand purchases with tax dollars to an essentially different product, a religious education.

And the Supreme Court agreed to take the case, which has twice been considered to have no standing.


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