(RNS) – On Tuesday (June 21), the US Supreme Court ruled on what may have appeared to be a unique and local issue: When Maine provides vouchers to small rural town students with no public high school to attend school private, can it exclude religious schools?
The Carson decision v. Indeed, Makin could portend a return to the disastrous combination of coercive Christianity and public dollars.
Ruling 6-3 states that states that offer money to private schools (in places, like Maine, too remote to support public schools) will now have to allow religious schools to participate in those programs. Previously, as Judge Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissent to Carson, the court found that states can fund a student to attend a religious school, but “the key word is ‘May’.”
Breyer goes on to ask rhetorically, “What happens once ‘may’ becomes ‘must’?”
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Well, in Maine alone, it means that taxpayers of all faiths and belief systems will be obligated to fund a Christian school whose “educational goals” include “‘leading every unsaved student to trust Christ as their personal savior. and then follow Christ as Lord of his life ‘”.
Hindu, Jewish and atheist Mainers will pay for education that provides “biblically integrated education”, in which the Bible is used in every subject taught, including mathematics and science. Mainers will also fund schools that actively discriminate against citizens of the state, as some religious schools have policies that deny enrollment for LGTBQ + students.
During the oral arguments, Judge Elena Kagan correctly identified the Maine program as “small” and “booth”, but in the majority opinion of Chief Justice John Roberts, the court opened the door to public funding of the sectarian religious education in any context.
Americans shouldn’t be forced to pay for hate. The Carson ruling allows state taxpayers to be forced to pay tuition to schools that expressly discriminate, both in hiring teachers and admitting students, LGBTQ people, among others. The Supreme Court has again centered Protestant Christianity as normative and acceptable, even when it divides and belittles some Americans.
I say “again” because Christianity is deeply entangled in the legal and social infrastructure of the United States. For 150 years, from 1819 to 1969, the “Indian boarding schools” and other Christian missionary works financed by the federal government decided to “save the man and kill the Indian”.
As documented recently in the Interior Department’s comprehensive report, “Indian reservations ‘were spread across major religious denominations'” – the Christian denominations, that is – which, with federal dollars and US military strength behind them. , they used violence to take Native American, Alaskan and Hawaiian children from their families and indoctrinated to the Christian religion and “civilized” culture.
The children were renamed to “Christian names”, their hair was cut, and they were housed in schools which forced them to adopt Christianity and forbid them from speaking Indian languages or engaging in their families’ historical religious and cultural practices . Interior’s investigation revealed 53 college graves in which hundreds, if not thousands, of Native American children were buried, many in secret and many after abuse by federally funded missionaries.
The report, initiated by Home Secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold that position, forced the United States to acknowledge a cultural genocide, aided and abetted by religious authority paid for with federal tax dollars.
As I have shown in my academic work, Christian privilege interacts with other cultural privileges and norms, such as racism and heterosexual privilege, to create cross-cutting models of benefit and harm. In Indian schools, Christianity was used to knock the Indian out of the child. Now he is ready to defeat the gay, trans and intersex of the new generation of children.
There is nothing wrong with teaching religion in public and publicly funded schools. Judge Thomas Clark, writing 60 years ago in Abington v. Schempp was right: Coercive religious practice does not belong to the public school, but “one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship with the progress of civilization”.
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The new High Court ruling, by contrast, is a giant step in the wrong direction. In form and substance, it is an endorsement of sectarian education that elevates religion with social power, Christianity, above all others.
Coming within weeks of each other, the Indian colleges report and the new Supreme Court ruling are another vivid example of the true moral choice facing the United States today on so many issues: learning from history or repeat it.