Where Does Aid to Religion End?

Article excerpt

In a fit of conservative activism, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out a 12-year-old precedent and knocked a few more bricks off the top of the wall of separation between church and state.

The court ruled 5-4 on Monday that federally funded public school teachers could provide remedial reading and math in parochial school classrooms without violating the First Amendment. The ruling is one more slide down the slippery slope of permitting large-scale public aid to parochial schools.

Practicality was at war with principle in this case. The court's new decision is good news for parochial school children from the Bevo neighborhood of St. Louis to the streets of New York, where the case orginated. No longer will the 1,900 St. Louis parochial school children who receive Title I remedial services have to put on their coats and travel to a nearby storefront or trailer. That will save millions in program costs. But, as Justice David H. Souter said in dissent, there's "no stopping place in principle once the public teacher entered the religious schools to teach their secular subjects." The court's activism was transparent. It applied a federal rule never before used to reopen a settled Supreme Court decision. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, writing for the court, said it was appropriate because the court's intepretation of the First Amendment has changed. No longer does the court consider all direct government aid to parochial educational to be unconstitutional or to pose a symbolic union between church and state. That's where the court makes its mistake. It ignores the fundamental lesson of our history - in Justice Souter's words, that "religions supported by governments are compromised just as surely as the religious freedom of dissenters is burdened when the government supports religion. …