Local Compliance with Supreme Court Decisions: Making Space for Religious Expression in Public Schools
Abel, C. F., Hacker, Hans J., Journal of Church and State
In their article, "Public Schools and Religious Expression: The Diversity of School Districts' Policies Regarding Religious Expression,"1 Brown and Bowling take a first cut at describing and explaining school district compliance with federal guidelines on religious expression in public schools. Two important conclusions emerge from their analysis. First, they observe that compliance with federal guidelines is complicated by "the inherent complexities of intergovernmental policy and implementation in public education." Such complexity is accentuated by not only the number of interests, but their ideological commitments that raise the pitch of conflict. As Brown and Bowling note, "issues of relatively minor significance to some can become highly divisive as public policies made by educational laypersons with advice from professional superintendents and legal experts come under the scrutiny of an entire community."
Second, after comparing compliance in eight states with Supreme Court precedents, the Equal Access Act, and U.S. Department of Education guidelines, they observed that, "On the one hand, there are school districts that have taken steps to formally implement into their policy manuals two decades worth of Supreme Court rulings, congressional legislation, and executive branch pronouncements governing religious expression in the public schools. On the other nand, most [school districts] . . . revealed a clear failure to implement federal policy." In response to these findings, Brown and Bowling point out that, "Where, why, and how this occurred are important questions in any study ofpublic policy. . . ."2
This essay builds upon the Brown and Bowling study by deriving a composite model from two public administration literature streams that may help to explain where, why, and how such a diversity of compliance comes about. Those literature streams have developed two different frameworks for analyzing administrative behavior in fragmented and contentious policy spheres. One stream focuses on how compliance with contentious policies might be affected, while the other focuses upon how contentious policies might be implemented most effectively. We introduce a composite model that may help to explain where, why, and how effective compliance does or does not occur, regardless of attempts at enforcement. We then explore how that model might be applied in the policy area of religious expression in public schools, thereby laying the groundwork for future empirical examination of school district compliance. In developing our composite model, we recognize that policies mirror the environments that they were meant to serve. Using the concept of "theory-space," we attempt to characterize the legal, political, and social environments that dominate the formulation of religious expression doctrine. Thus, our model accounts for environmental factors which profoundly influence the capacities of public officials to implement policies complying with prevailing doctrine.
"THEORY-SPACE" AND MODELS OF ADMINISTRATIVE COMPLIANCE / IMPLEMENTATION
A "theory-space" is a social space created by directing the focus of attention to certain phenomena and controlling the boundaries of acceptable description and explanation. It is maintained and expanded through the elaboration of concepts, principles, epistemologies, and trajectories of discourse. An "open theory-space" provides a communicative environment that enables highly dynamic, ongoing negotiation of both what is included in the focus of attention and what constitutes acceptable description and explanation. A "closed theory-space" does not. An open theory space insures both unlimited discussion, free of all constraints and domination, and a substantive equality of opportunity to initiate and perpetuate discourse, to put forward thoughts, to call claims and proposition into question, and to support or oppose statements, explanations, …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Local Compliance with Supreme Court Decisions: Making Space for Religious Expression in Public Schools. Contributors: Abel, C. F. - Author, Hacker, Hans J. - Author. Journal title: Journal of Church and State. Volume: 48. Issue: 2 Publication date: Spring 2006. Page number: 355+. © 1999 J.M. Dawson Studies in Church and State. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.