The pro-religious decisions of 2022 had Christianity at the forefront
In two key decisions, the Supreme Court used religious freedom to break down “the wall of separation” that Thomas Jefferson said should exist between church and state.
WASHINGTON (CN) — Sixty years after it ruled unconstitutional for state officials to establish formal school prayers in public schools, the Supreme Court now has two decisions from a single term that uphold rights Christian schools on the one hand and Christian public school employees on the other.
The conservative supermajority called it discriminatory in the first instance, Carson v. Makin, for Maine not to let sectarian schools avail of the taxpayer-funded tuition program. He shouted discrimination again in the second, Kennedy v. Bremerton School Districtthis time criticizing the firing of a public high school football coach whose post-game prayers at the 50-yard line became a media spectacle.
Decided in the same mandate, and in fact the same week, as the decision that canceled the federal right to abortion enshrined in Roe vs. Wadereligious cases shared a tense and crowded spotlight.
Americans United for Separation of Church and State, for its part, warned that minority religions would not find it as easy as Christian religions to share the same religious protections that the conservative majority claims to reinforce.
“Religious freedom does not win when the majority religion is able to trample on minority rights or coerce members of minority religions or non-believers into participating in religious exercises,” said Alex Luchenitser, Associate Vice President and associate group legal director. .
In addition to carson and kennedy cases, Americans United for Separation of Church and State was implicated and filed amicus briefs for other religious entanglements in court.
“The Supreme Court has become so hostile to the principle of separation of religion and government which has served our country so well for centuries and which has prevented religious conflict and ensured equality between people of different faiths,” said Luchenitser on a call. “The Supreme Court has now embarked on a path that could lead to increased division and conflict between religious groups.”
The Maine school tuition case and the prayer coach case saw the judges split 6-3 along ideological lines, and both saw words of alarm from the judge Sonia Sotomayor. “This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build,” the dissenting Obama appointee wrote. carson.
The Court’s jurisprudence regarding religion and the state has always been a balancing act between two clauses of the First Amendment. The Free Exercise Clause protects the right of citizens to practice their religion, but this right is limited by the Establishment Clause, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion.
“As the court used to say, there’s a play in the joints between the two clauses, and they’re trying to figure out how the clauses are related,” said Frederick Lawrence, a prominent lecturer at Georgetown Law.
How did the court come to carson and kennedy today shows a change in this balance.
“Now it’s a two-court tribunal … which has significantly reduced the establishment clause and significantly increased the free exercise clause,” Lawrence said.
“Since 1962, we have declared that formal academic prayer in public schools is unconstitutional because it constitutes an establishment of religion,” he added. “So I think it’s a drastic change. As the shoes keep falling off, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the reversal of the original Engel versus Vitale case in 1962.
The carson and kennedy The decisions both present themselves as focusing on the prevention of religious discrimination.
“There is nothing neutral about the Maine program,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority in carson. “The state pays tuition for some students in private schools – as long as the schools are not religious. This is discrimination against religion.
In the majority opinion in kennedyJudge Neil Gorsuch said the school suppressed religion.
“The Constitution neither mandates nor condones this kind of discrimination,” Gorsuch wrote.
For critics, however, the court rulings only protect majority religions and leave the most vulnerable with fewer rights.
“The court is increasingly allowing religion to be used as a sword that can justify religious discrimination and religious coercion and less and less as a shield ensuring that all people are equal, regardless of their religious beliefs or what ‘they might believe in religion,’ Luchenitser said.
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