Another breach in the church-state wall

Last Tuesday, the US Supreme Court ruled in a case allowing vouchers to be used to pay for religious-based private schools that had been restricted by the state of Maine. The 6-3 verdict essentially ruled in favour of allowing schools run by religious denominations to participate in publicly funded education programmes. Dissenting justices argued that the ruling dismantles the wall of separation between ‘church and state’, a cornerstone of the US Constitution, something that also takes on greater importance as religious diversity in the US rises.

The assenting bench argued that the ruling does not require states to support religious education but bars preventing religious schools to participate in taxpayer-funded programmes. The case arose from a challenge to the state rule that it will provide tuition assistance for parents to send their children to private schools if there is no secondary school in their school district — with the condition that the private school must be non-denominational. The three dissenting judges disagreed, arguing that it paves the way for taxpayer money flowing into religious schools.

They added that religious schools are free to impart education in line with the world view of their faith, and that the practice of their faith is protected by the US Constitution. But allowing public money to fund religious education could very well undermine this freedom.

The danger of the ‘Carson v Markin’ ruling is that, as one of the dissenting judges Sonia Sotomayor warned, it opens the door for greater entanglement of the state in matters of religion. Breaching the wall separating state and religion jeopardises the functioning of open, diverse and democratic societies. And might we add, all democratic societies.


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