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Supreme Court Conservatives Are Trying To Do Away Entirely With the Separation of Church and State

Security fencing surrounds the Supreme Court of the United States

The Supreme Court handed down a number of decisions today, and while none of them were Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization—the case that will dismantle Roe v. Wade according to a leaked decision draft—there was still plenty of upsetting news.

In the case of Carson v Makin, the court ruled that tax dollars in Maine can go to funding religious education, a clear attack on the separation of church and state. The question was over rural areas that don’t have public schools, and whether taxpayer money could then be used to fund explicitly religious education. The court ruled 6–3 along party lines that it could.

But, as Justice Stephen Breyer wrote in his dissenting opinion, this has enormous slippery-slope implications for future cases. “What happens once “may” becomes “must”?” he wrote. “Does that transformation mean that a school district that pays for public schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to send their children to religious schools? Does it mean that school districts that give vouchers for use at charter schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to give their children a religious education? What other social benefits are there the State’s provision of which means—under the majority’s interpretation of the Free Exercise Clause—that the State must pay parents for the religious equivalent of the secular benefit provided?”

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a separate dissenting opinion, writing, “This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.” That’s a road she says the court started down years ago and that they’ve been chipping away at that wall ever since. She also quotes her own past opinions on the matter, citing times she warned the court that this is where we were heading.

“What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the Court was ‘lead[ing] us . . . to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment,’” she writes, with the SCOTUS equivalent of an I told you so. “Today, the Court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation.”

Sotomayor also points out that allowing/requiring tax money to be used to fund religious education means that “while purporting to protect against discrimination of one kind, the Court requires Maine to fund what many of its citizens believe to be discrimination of other kinds.” She specifically cites two Maine Christian schools’ policies “denying enrollment to students based on gender identity, sexual orientation, and religion.”

Republicans have spent decades working to reach the moment when the Supreme Court is stacked with religious zealots, and this—just like the looming abortion ruling—is exactly what they were hoping would happen when they got there.

(image: Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.