Separation of Church and State

What happened to the First Amendment? Whatever happened to the Jefferson ideal of separation of church and state?

Evidently, the Supreme Court of the United States seems to have put it aside.

On June 30, 2020, SCOTUS handed down the decision on Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, No. 18-1195, stating that the Montana constitution bars the use of state government funds for “any sectarian purpose or to aid any church, school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled in whole or in part by any church, sect or denomination,” runs afoul to the U.S. Constitution’s “Free Exercise” provision of the First Amendment.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, “A state need not subsidize private education. But once a state decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

But that ruling seems to be contrary to the Establishment Clause of the Amendment which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Espinoza now allows state legislatures and the Congress to create laws that would allow school choice programs that include religious institutions.

In Montana, of the top 35 private schools, 29 are either Catholic or Christian affiliated. If the rate holds true for the other 92 private schools in the state, 83% of the 127 private schools, or 105, are Christian based.

There is a fine balance between the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the Amendment. Yet the majority of Justices appear to have relied more on their personal religious and political beliefs than to attempt to balance the two provisions.

This ruling places the entire advantage in the hands of the religious right, allowing the United States to become a Christian theocracy, giving a disadvantage for non-religious and non-Christian citizens, forcing tax dollars to be spent on Christian education.

“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another… No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.” Justice Hugo Black, writing for the majority in Everson v. Board of Education

Chief Justice Roberts, who supports the precedent of the Court, seems to have missed these words. The new ruling is forcing the tax dollars of the non-Christians and the non-religious to be used to support the teaching and practice of the Christian faith. This is an obvious violation of the First Amendment’s intent on keeping American from becoming a Christian-theocracy.

About David Rosman

David is the winner of the Missouri Press Foundation's "Best Columnist" in 2013 (First Place) and 2014 (Second Place), the 2016 Harold Riback Award for excellence in writing, and the winner of the 2007 Interactive Media Award for excellence in editing.
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