What Next? (Church and State)

By Doerr, Edd | The Humanist, November-December 2002 | Go to article overview

What Next? (Church and State)


Doerr, Edd, The Humanist


What next?" is the question many are asking in the wake of the Supreme Court's June 27, 2002, five-to-four ruling in favor of Cleveland, Ohio's, school voucher plan--a move that largely trashes the First Amendment. What's next is a full-scale attack on government's forcing all taxpayers to involuntarily support discriminatory sectarian schools. For example, a Baptist private school in Lexington, North Carolina, just kicked out a student allegedly for being Catholic and presumably because his parents aren't "in agreement with the Christian philosophy, purposes and standards of the school."

The new assault, the results of which cannot be predicted, will be against the clear prohibitions of tax aid to religious schools that exist in thirty-seven state constitutions and the implied prohibitions in most of the rest. Such a prohibition was invoked on August 5, 2002, when a lower court in Florida held that state's voucher plan is in violation of the state constitution.

Aiding and abetting the new assault are Harvard University Press and New York University Press, which have embarrassingly and irresponsibly published two new books that well illustrate George Orwell's remark about the "selective manipulation of history." Philip Hamburger's Separation of Church and State and Daniel Dreisbach's Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State raise pedantry, eccentricity, and pretentiousness to new levels. Both authors cross reference each other and set out to trash, as misleading and worthless, Jefferson's useful and accurate 1802 metaphor about separation of church and state. Neither author explains just what America's founders intended regarding church-state relations in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Both pointedly ignore the 1780s Virginia struggles that shaped thinking on church-state separation, the congressional debates on the wording of the First Amendment, and the clear intent of the post-Civil War drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Hamburger in particular attributes the state prohibitions on vouchers or their analogs to nineteenth-century nativism and anti-Catholicism, ignoring the provocations regularly pouring from the papal states and the Vatican. Both Hamburger and Dreisbach ignore such facts as that Catholic voters in New York and Massachusetts in 1967 and the 1980s defeated attempts to remove anti-voucher language from state constitutions, and that Catholic voters in California and Michigan in 2000 voted two to one against school vouchers. These authors don't mention that in 1952 predominantly Catholic Puerto Rico put into the commonwealth's constitution, "There shall be complete separation of church and state"--a constitution that was subsequently approved by the U. …

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