Supreme Court Decision Advances Educational Freedom

Last week, the Supreme Court delivered three decisions that have the Left in a snit of epic proportions. On Friday, the Court decided there is no constitutional right to an abortion, and threw Roe v. Wade into the trashcan. The prior day, the justices made clear that the Second Amendment protects the right to carry a handgun outside the home for self-defense. And on Tuesday, in Carson v. Makin, the Supremes asserted that if a state subsidizes private education, it cannot disqualify religious schools.

The latter case revolves around Maine’s town tuitioning law, which allows parents living in districts that do not own and operate elementary or secondary schools to send their children to public or private schools in other areas of the state, or even outside the state, using funds provided by the child’s home district. Until Tuesday’s decision, the school a parent chose could not be a religious one. But as Chief Justice John Roberts explains, “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion. A State’s anti establishment interest does not justify enactments that exclude some members of the community from an otherwise generally available public benefit because of their religious exercise.”

The Carson case was the fourth in a series that have involved the faux “separation of Church and state” argument. In the 2002 Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision, SCOTUS ruled that because financial aid goes to parents and not the religious school, vouchers are indeed constitutional.

Then, in 2017’s Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, a Missouri church that was operating a daycare and preschool applied to a state grant program that helps non-profits pay to install rubber playground surfaces. The church’s application was denied because “the state constitution bars the state from providing funds to religious entities.” But Trinity Lutheran pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court, where it prevailed. Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion of the 7-2 majority, stating, “The Court held that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protected the freedom to practice religion and subjects laws that burden religious practice to strict scrutiny.”

And in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020, the Court ruled for the plaintiff in a 5-4 decision. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts simply declared, “A State need not subsidize private education, but once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

In fact, religion in public schools has a long history, beginning in the 1830s when the “common school” movement was launched for the purpose of instilling Protestant values in our nation’s youth. Catholics, Jews, and others had to pay extra for schools that reflected their religious ideals. A group of reformers declared that state involvement was needed to ensure that all children receive a better, more unified education. Leading the charge was Horace Mann, who argued that a centrally planned system of tax-funded schools would be superior to the independent and home schools that existed at the time. As Mann quaintly explained in 1844, “We who are engaged in the sacred cause of education are entitled to look upon all parents as having given hostages to our cause.” Mann even ventured to predict that if public schooling were widely adopted and given enough time to work, “nine-tenths of the crimes in the penal code would become obsolete,” and “the long catalogue of human ills would be abridged.”

It’s important to note that government schools are still religious, but Protestantism is passé. The regnant belief system in many of our schools is now leftism or cultural Marxism, which can be as godly in spirit as anything a holy roller could come up with. When you send your little ones off to the zip code-mandated government school down the street, they very well may be indoctrinated by true-believing evangelists in Critical Race Theory. They may be force-fed graphic sex ed, told that there are 87 genders, and that men can get pregnant. Some will be warned that we are all going to hell because of man-made global warming unleashed on us by evil corporations. And, of course, some zealots will label white toddlers as racial oppressors.

Nor are textbooks safe from the Left. Communist and notorious America-hater Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is assigned in many high school history classes. Zinn felt that the teaching of history “should serve society in some way” and that “objectivity is impossible and it is also undesirable.” As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia.

Needless to say, the teachers unions and others with a vested interest in preserving the public school monopoly were apoplectic when the Carson decision was announced. Typifying the overwrought response, National Education Association president Becky Pringle complained in a tweet that “with its radical ruling in Carson v. Makin, SCOTUS again undermined public schools & the students they serve in favor of funding private religious schools that serve only a few & often discriminate against students & employees.” 

American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten groused in a press release, “Remarkably and stunningly, even for this right-wing majority, this decision completely vitiates the establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution and, with it, the separation of church and state, a core constitutional principle that has bound this country together since its founding. Today the court has decided that taxpayers must pay for the private religious education of others.”

While the union bosses and like-minded souls despise any public money going to a parent who wants to send his child to a private school, they all praise Pell Grants. These federal dollars go to needy college students, and can be used to attend private colleges, including religious schools like Notre Dame and Brigham Young

I have never received a response to the question I constantly pose: “Giving parents choices on the K-12 level—vouchers, ESAs, etc., especially if used at a religious school—is your worst nightmare. Why is the private option perfectly okay for college students, but not for elementary and high schoolers?” And while I’m at it, I have one more question: “Why are you so pro choice when a baby is in the womb, but once it enters the world, choice becomes a dirty word?”

Interestingly, the day that the Carson ruling came down, the results of a Harris Poll were released. The survey revealed that education ranks high among parents’ concerns as the upcoming midterm elections approach. For starters, 82 percent said they would vote for someone outside their party if the candidate’s education agenda matched their own. The results held true across party lines, with 88 percent of independents, 81 percent of Democrats, and 79 percent of Republicans all indicating that they would be willing to support a candidate outside their preferred party over education issues.

Also of note:

  • More than 80 percent said education has become a more important political issue to them than it was in the past.
  • Among parents who vote in federal, state and local elections, education was second only to taxes when casting their ballot in state and local races.
  • Nearly 75 percent of parents said they would consider sending their child to a charter school if one were available in their area.
  • Seventy percent of black parents and 63 percent of Hispanic parents strongly agreed that families should have a choice in where their children attend school. 

Between the Supreme Court decision and the Harris Poll findings, it was a great week for educational freedom. As the nation is about to celebrate Independence Day, the timing could not be better.

About Larry Sand

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network—a nonpartisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

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