2 troubling SCOTUS decisions for schools and students
Conor Sasner (Former Staff)Child Rights Education
Two recent Supreme Court rulings – Kennedy v. Bremerton and Carson v. Makin – will accelerate the decay of the separation of Church and state and of First Amendment rights within schools.
In the case of Kennedy v. Bremerton, high school football coach Joseph Kennedy led Christian prayer on the field and in the locker room. The school district asked him to stop conducting the open demonstrations of religion, reasoning that they could be considered exclusionary and coercive to students of a different faith. After Kennedy refused their requests and was placed on administrative leave, he filed a suit against the district. The Supreme Court, by a 6-3 margin, recently ruled in favor of Kennedy. Under the guise of religious freedom, and protection against religious persecution, the Supreme Court set a precedent that open religious practice is protected in public schools, a sphere long considered secular. This decision may well give cover to coercive religious practice, verging on proselytization, taking hold in the classroom.
In Carson v. Makin, the court ruled, again by a 6-3 margin, that if states give public funding vouchers to any private schools, these vouchers must also be made available to religious schools, including those that preach and pursue discriminatory measures against LGBTQ+ students.
The Establishment clause of the U.S. Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Under our current Supreme Court, separation of church and state becomes its own perverse inversion. As Justice Sotomayor wrote in her dissent, “the court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.” The Supreme Court is leading us into a new era: where protection is discrimination; where protecting rights is a coercive act and to coerce is a right; where up is down. The inability of justices to agree on “basic facts” exposes the fallibility of the Supreme Court as an unelected institution with massive power.
Some allege “indoctrination” in schools, that schools restrict free thought and expression by students by, for example, reckoning with America’s history of racism. But the greatest threat to free speech and free thought within schools and against teachers and students is the movement to restrict discussion and conversation, over what can be said in the classroom. The true proponents of schools as tools of indoctrination are those who impugn it the loudest.
Under Betsy DeVos, the Department of Education’s primary goal was clear: Dismantle public schools and uplift private and charter, particularly religious, alternatives. DeVos fought to open the public purses to private and religious schools. She proclaimed that “prohibiting religiously affiliated public charter schools is unconstitutional.” The Supreme Court is carrying on that fight.