Refashioned in an ultra-conservative direction by former President Donald Trump, the Court has been busy twisting the true meaning of religious freedom into religious favoritism.
In many American towns, there exists at least one private religious school that infuses every subject with a “biblical worldview” anchored in ultra-conservative Christianity. Students are taught that same-sex relationships are evil, and that transgender people are a threat. The school tells its students a woman’s primary duty is to marry and raise children. Science classes teach that the Earth is 6,000 years old, and in whitewashed history classes, students learn America was founded to be and must always remain a “Christian nation.”
If this private academy asked you for donations, would you give? Thanks to a recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, you may no longer have the power to say no. The government may now tax you—take money out of your pocket—and give it to schools like this.
The Carson v. Makin case concerned a law in Maine that allows students in rural areas where there are no public high schools to attend secular private schools, with the state picking up part of the tab. Maine officials wanted to ensure that students were getting the equivalent of a public school education, so they limited the program to secular schools and programs, as the dissent noted, “free from religious affiliation or indoctrination.”
Two groups—one that opposes the very idea of public education and another that fought to keep evolution out of, and Bible classes in, public schools—found some Christian parents who wanted their children to attend far-right religious schools at taxpayer expense. They sued and won. Maine’s failure to fund these schools, the Supreme Court ruled, is discrimination that violates the parents’ religious freedom.
It’s no coincidence this ruling came down during the same term that the Supreme Court allowed a public school coach to pray with students, abolished the constitutional right to abortion and forced Boston City Hall to fly the Christian flag. Refashioned in an ultra-conservative direction by former President Donald Trump, the Court has been busy twisting the true meaning of religious freedom into religious favoritism.
Once, you had the right to decide for yourself what religion, if any, you would support. Now, the government may require you to fund the teaching of a religion that is not your own. When the government is not actively supporting a religion, this rogue Supreme Court calls it discrimination.
In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor lamented that this “Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.” Indeed, the Framers thought that compelling people to support religion was “sinful and tyrannical.”
That tyranny is only one of the problems with the Carson ruling. Taxpayers will be compelled to support schools that may oppose LGBTQ rights, are virulently anti-abortion, and assail any religion that is not their own narrow expression of Christianity. They actively discriminate, denying admission to students who fail to meet stringent religious qualifications, and they refuse to hire anyone who runs afoul of their faith, targeting LGBTQ+ people especially.
Maine’s failure to fund these schools, the Supreme Court ruled, is discrimination that violates the parents’ religious freedom.
The ruling is also a threat to our public schools. Public schools are open to everyone and serve 90% of America’s children. Public funds belong in public schools, not private schools that discriminate in who they will educate and hire.
There is hope. The Supreme Court did not force Maine to create this voucher-like program; but it has said that if such programs exist, they must include religious schools. We can protect true religious freedom—and protect badly-needed funding for public education—by getting rid of private school vouchers and other taxpayer subsidies for religious education.
Given the checkered past of vouchers, this would be no loss. Private school vouchers were created after Brown v. Board of Education to thwart the desegregation of public schools in the South. Using the coded language of school choice, vouchers were designed to divert money from public schools to white segregation academies.
This case is a part of that hateful tradition and also the modern attack on public schools waged by a shadow network creating false controversies. The architect of the anti-CRT movement admitted that his goal is to create distrust in the public school system so that he can push for school vouchers. After the Carson decision, he argued that it was “time for universal school choice.” Anti-mask advocates, those pushing the “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and those supporting Coach Kennedy in the case Americans United argued in April, all claim that defunding public schools and funding vouchers is the real solution. They are even pushing vouchers as a “solution” to the horrific tragedy of school shootings.
But vouchers aren’t a solution. Study after study shows that students using vouchers to attend private schools do no better academically than their public school peers. Many private schools incorporate elements into their curriculum that are incorrect or hateful and divisive. Oversight, if it exists at all, is lax.
Using the coded language of ‘school choice,’ vouchers were designed to divert money from public schools to white segregation academies. … The architect of the anti-CRT movement admitted that his goal is to create distrust in the public school system so that he can push for school vouchers.
It’s time to end all private-school vouchers. We need a national recommitment to public education. And we need a national recommitment to the separation of church and state, which ensures freedom without favor and equality without exception. We the people must resurrect this foundational principle and reject the Court’s attempts to destroy it. Those who seek to undermine our public schools and church-state separation won’t back down; but neither will we. Make no mistake, we are in the fight of our lives. Our voices, and believing in the power of our voices, matter more than ever before. If our democracy is to survive, we must prevail.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.