The Establishment Clause amidst the 2020 Maelstrom

Religious Education

While I have experimented with a number of religious and spiritual traditions I have not found one that I have come to accept as mine.  I am neither an atheist nor a deist, thus I am what is referred to as agnostic.  As a child I was baptized Catholic and then Greek Orthodox and as a member of the local Greek Orthodox congregation, I attended Catholic St. Gerard de Majella elementary school in Hollis New York where it was made clear to my class that good Catholic girls did not marry non-Catholics, something I confess made me a bit uncomfortable.  Still, the education was great, I made great friends, and I am grateful that enrollment was not restricted to practicing Catholics.  I subsequently studied numerous religions and as a young educator, taught comparative religions among other classes such as history, problems of American democracy and foreign languages.  Later, as a college professor, I chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at a major Latin American university, one purportedly secular but ironically, like most other “secular” universities in Latin America, prominently featuring an official chaplain.  Politically I am a leftist but reject the Democratic Party as neither liberal, nor progressive, nor leftist; my political perspectives align with democratic socialism such as that espoused by people such as Noam Chomsky, Albert Einstein, Pepe Mujica, etc.  I have a specific research affinity for comparative constitutional law developed while earning an LL.M degree in international legal studies at New York University.   The foregoing is context that may prove useful in evaluating the following opinions on the Supreme Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue decided on June 30, 2020, where, reflecting today’s American society, polarized as usual, the Supreme Court just decided that the First Amendment does not prohibit state aid to religious education incidental to state aid to education in general.  Indeed, it appeared to rule that discrimination against religious education is just what the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits.  I agree with the decision on both historical and ethical grounds.

The First Amendment applied only to the Federal Congress (“Congress shall make no law….”) until the 14th Amendment started a gradual trend towards applying aspects of the Bill of Rights to state governments.  Initially, an important aspect of the Establishment Clause was to prevent the establishment of a compulsory national religion that might clash with religions recognized and given priority by the individual states (see Vile, John R. (2009), “Established Churches in Early America”, The First Amendment Encyclopedia).  Eventually it became interpreted as prohibiting the establishment or promotion of any specific religion by governments at any level, a wide leap but one reflecting societal evolution, and then, starting in the 1960s, in a trend contrary to the feelings of most Americans, became associated with anti-religious goals, a very polarizing development.

The Roberts Court, as the current Supreme is becoming known, has taken a step back towards very logical approach.  Governments can neither discriminate in favor of nor against religions in legislation or expenditures.  It is as unfair to require taxpayers with religious views to subsidize anti-religious education as it is to require taxpayers with atheistic or agnostic beliefs to subsidize religious education, leaving two choices: Either outlawing governmental support of education, an idiotic perspective given the reality that popular health and education ought to be government’s highest priorities; or, permitting the subsidizing of education regardless of religious or anti-religious tendencies.

The Supreme Court made the right choice, although sadly, by a 5 to 4 vote.  What a shame that the justices of that august body, purportedly the brightest and best minds we have (purportedly justifying their lifetime tenure) cannot reach a common sense consensus.  But then again, in our Identity Politics infected and polarized world, …

Neither can we.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2020; all rights reserved.  Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia (although he has primarily lived in the United States of America of which he is also a citizen).  Until 2017 he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales.  He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation and linguistic studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies).  He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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