Religion and the Constitution - Vol. 2

By Kent Greenawalt | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 18
Financial Support to Religious Institutions

Many major problems about Establishment Clause law involve public funding of endeavors undertaken by religious organizations—such as hospitals, schools, adoption agencies, and drug rehabilitation centers. This chapter identifies some central issues about funding, before turning to Supreme Court decisions regarding services other than schools, and controversial aspects of President George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiative” for social services. The following chapter concentrates on the complex topic of aid to private religious schools.

The modern Supreme Court’s decisions about funding have started from the premise that the government should not give financial support to religious organizations to pursue dominantly religious objectives. If the government gave a grant of $20 million to the Presbyterian Church to repair church buildings1 and offer religious television programs, that would promote and sponsor Presbyterianism and constitute a forbidden establishment of religion. The government cannot directly finance a church’s teaching of religious ideas any more than it can teach such ideas itself. Even were such grants given to all religious groups, that would promote religion in comparison with nonreligious activities and with antireligious groups and perspectives.2 The conclusion that such assistance is impermissible would not be deflected by a claim that the government gives these grants because religious people make good citizens. Although the value of good citizenship might constitute a secular reason to support religion,3 the government cannot single out religious groups as specially warranting support. One of the major themes of James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance,” written in opposition to

1 I am assuming here that the money for repair is not to compensate for damage the government has caused or as an offset for restrictions of historical landmark status.

2 Andrew Koppelman, “Secular Purpose,” 88 Virginia Law Review 87, 133–39 (2002), has suggested that government may favor religion in general, so long as it treats all groups that address religious questions, including atheist and agnostic groups, equally, but he does not challenge the bar on the funding of religious activities as such. Id. at 144.

3 People’s participation in religious groups can be a fruitful lesson in respect for others and political involvement, and throughout our history, many have claimed, with Washington in his Farewell Address, that religion is a vital bulwark of morality, and that morality is a critical component of good citizenship.

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