Shredding The First Amendment?

Mar 15, 2016

Photo credit: Shutterstock

By Simon Brown

Four years ago, officials at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., decided they would like to resurface a playground at the church’s religious preschool – and that taxpayers should pick up the tab for it.

Under a state program, aid was available for such projects through a program that awarded grants to purchase recycled tires – but not for houses of worship. The church sued, and its attorneys at Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a large Religious Right group, made a startling claim: The church has a constitutional right to taxpayer support.

“Missouri and every state should understand that the U.S. Constitution prohibits religious hostility, which is what Missouri exhibited when it denied Trinity Lutheran’s scrap tire grant application,” Erik Stanley, an ADF attorney, said in a recent statement. “This case has huge implications for state constitutional provisions across the nation that treat religious Americans and organizations as inferiors solely because of their religious identity.”

Far from a frivolous squabble over old tires, the case could, if the Religious Right has its way, become a blockbuster that dramatically impacts how religion and government interact when it comes to taxpayer assistance.

The U.S. Supreme Court in January announced that it will hear an appeal of the case, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley. The ramifications could reach far beyond a playground in Missouri.

At the heart of this case is Article I, Section 7 of the Missouri Constitution, which states: “[N]o money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof” and that “no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect, or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.”

That type of provision, often referred to as a “no-aid” clause, is not unusual. In fact, about three-fourths of the states have them. These clauses reflect a longstanding concern in the United States that religion should pay its own way and not rely on taxpayer support.

In 1785, for example, James Madison wrote the “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” essentially a list of 15 reasons why no one should be forced to pay taxes to support churches.

Language that reflected the spirit of Madison’s concerns found its way into many state constitutions. The move accelerated in the post-Civil War era as public education took hold in the United States.

Massachusetts and New York passed the first mandatory school attendance laws in 1852 and 1853 respectively, but the drive didn’t really take off until after the war. By 1918, all states then in existence had some sort of compulsory attendance law.

Even then lawmakers were being lobbied by religious school advocates who hoped to win government support for their private institutions. As early as 1838, a Roman Catholic official in New York sought government subsidies for Catholic schools. Bishop John Hughes insisted that existing public schools were infused with Protestantism, making them unsuitable for Catholic students, and thus Catholic schools should receive subsidies from the state.

Some political leaders of the time proposed removing the “non-denominational” Protestant exercises that then occurred in some public schools to make them more tolerable to Catholics. In 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant went so far as to back an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would require states to maintain a secular public-school system and prohibit tax aid for religious schools.

A version of Grant’s amendment was introduced in Congress by James G. Blaine, who was then Speaker of the House of Representatives. A Maine Republican, Blaine pushed an amendment that focused on barring tax aid to sectarian institutions. The amendment would eventually pass the House, but it fell short in the U.S. Senate.

In the modern era, the push for what became known as the “Blaine Amendment” is often portrayed as an anti-Catholic crusade. The truth is much more complicated. While a certain degree of anti-Catholicism was prevalent in the United States during the 19th century, there is no evidence that Blaine himself was personally anti-Catholic. (He was a nominal Presbyterian, but his mother was Catholic and he sent his daughters to a Catholic-run boarding school.)

Clauses prohibiting public funding of religious schools were included in the constitutions of several Western states, though some of these clauses had language significantly different from that of Blaine’s proposed amendment. All these clauses were designed to underscore the point that in America, religion had to finance itself. There could be nothing like church taxes in the United States.

Despite this history, advocates of government aid to religion continue to attack state no-aid provisions as anti-Catholic – even though they are applied equally to all religions. The same amendment that bans aid to a Catholic school also bars it to Baptist, Jewish and Muslim institutions.


Source: https://blog.au.org/church-state/march-2016-church-state/featured/shredding-the-first-amendment

20 comments on “Shredding The First Amendment?

  • This issue came to a head in Australia in the 1950’s. At that time, there were state schools, and church schools, which meant in reality mostly catholic schools. Australia has always funded the students, not the school they attend, so Catholic schools received tax payer money to educate Australians.

    There was a move (motivated by anti papal protestants) to remove funding for church schools. (the catholics) The debate in parliament was close and was coming to a vote. In a large rural city, to demonstrate what would happen if funding was removed, the Catholic Bishop closed all of the catholic schools on a Friday and directed all of the students to attend the state school on Monday. 2 thousands new students turned up on Monday at the state schools who obviously couldn’t cope. The Bill was defeated in Parliament and catholic schools continued to receive tax funds.

    But Australia has the privilege of having a different social outlook from America. We see free education for all citizens as a right, to be funded by the taxpayer. (p.s. We’re not communists.) The tax payer funds each student, regardless of which school they attend. We also have state curriculums (soon to be a national curriculum.) which must be taught. Religious education in church schools is fine and in the past, even state schools had Religious Education once a fortnight when all of the local denominations would send in a priest of similar to do a bit of happy clapping.

    I never went. The heathens in the school had to go to a class room where there was this amazing Australian woman who taught French. She was an undercover spy in France during the Nazi occupation and much decorated. Told great stories. She was also an intellectual, so I couldn’t wait for my hour with her, where everything was up for discussion. She even gave us copies of The Medium or the Message, which was way radical back in the sixties…. But I am reminiscing.

    We are currently having a problem with one particular sect of Islamic schools, not because they are not teaching the curriculum or anything to do with religion, but because of corruption. Government funds are going into some school board pockets, but we’re onto it, and people are going to jail.

    I like the principal of taxes to “Fund the Student” not the school.



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  • 2
    Cairsley says:

    To David R Allen #1

    We see free education for all citizens as a right, to be funded by the taxpayer. (p.s. We’re not communists.)

    You give a very clear explanation of the rationale for paying state funds to private schools — not for the schools but for the education of the students as required by the national curriculum. We have a similar situation in New Zealand, and we too are not communists. We are just civilized, and we take our democracy seriously. We know that a democracy cannot function unless all its citizens are educated and well informed.



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  • David R Allen #1
    Mar 15, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    I like the principal of taxes to “Fund the Student” not the school.

    I have doubts about that.

    It sounds a bit like the voucher system.

    There is also the question of the cost of courses.

    Bible classes can be held anywhere with cheap books and fairy tales.

    Science labs and engineering workshops cost serious money, need proper safety procedures, and qualified staff who may well be in demand in competitive industries which are prepared to pay them for their expertise.



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  • 4
    Cairsley says:

    To Alan4discussion at #3

    It sounds a bit like the voucher system.

    No, Alan, this has nothing to do with the voucher system. It is not any particular system of funding — that is a practical administrative matter — rather it is a policy position of accepting the entitlement of private schools to state funding to cover tuition required by the national curriculum. Under this arrangement private schools are funded in the same way as state schools for tuition costs. Most of the material assets of private schools (such as land, buildings, equipment and some resources) still have to be supplied by the private parties that desire these schools, though there may be state assistance for purchasing specialist equipment, as for a science laboratory. Once these assets are in place, the great financial burden is the ongoing cost of tuition, including textbooks.



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  • No one in the Italian Parliament owns enough strong balls to push something like the “Blaine Amendment”.

    The only political party born on purpose to eliminate the privileges that are given ONLY to the Catholic Church by the Fascist Concordat (1929) and that are protected by article 7 of the Republican Constitution (1948) is the political party called Demecrazia Atea (atheist democracy, where “atheist” is referred to the State and not to citizens) that has the aim to abolish the Fascist Concordat (and its review of 1984-85) fixed in the article 1 of its Statute.

    Those privileges cost to the Italian taxpayer over 6.5 Billions of Euros a year!

    Unfortunately, until now, Demecrazia Atea has no representatives in the Italian Parliament.

    “The aims of Trinity Lutheran’s attorneys and allies are clear. They seek nothing less than a fundamental alteration of the very idea of church-state separation as it applies to taxpayer funding of religious entities.”

    And once church-state separation is altered the US taxpayer will discover how much it costs.



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  • Sorry if I, with my approximate English writing, dare to write multiple comments, but the subject is hurting (offending?) me very much.

    To those that invoke “discrimination” because of the exclusion of only one category, religion, from public funds, the answer can be easy.

    Public funds can be given to other social groups and not to the religious groups because the other social groups have specific aims and limited scopes, and constitute parts of the whole pluralistic society in the democratic State, but do not pretend to substitute the State itself.

    Only religious groups, as well as totalitarian political parties, have a vision of the entire society that tend to size the pluralistic democratic State and to substitute it with a theocracy or a nearly-theocracy. E.g.: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Vaticaly (the Republic of the little Italian-Vatican bananas), …

    Would you like to become VaticUS or something like that?



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  • David R Allen ‘I like the principal of taxes to “Fund the Student” not the school.’

    I don’t. This is the kind of thinking that has lead to a rash of free schools in the UK , christian, muslim, jewish etc. Given that they are not required to employ teachers with teaching qualifications, or educational qualifications of any kind nor teach the National Curriculum it amazes me that the government didn’t foresee the inevitable abysmal teaching inspections that followed. So a slew have been closed with the staff and communities claiming persecution.



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  • Church wants to receive tax dollars, but they don’t pay a penny in taxes? Playground on church property? Church’s problem to find money to maintain their own property. It would make more sense to have tax dollars fix my house – at least I pay taxes. Maybe the church could fix their playground with the money & energy they’re investing in this nonsense lawsuit.



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  • @mr_dna

    Given that they are not required to employ teachers with teaching qualifications, or educational qualifications

    Australia has government teacher registration and legislative curriculum requirements. You can’t teach unless you have a Bachelor of Education degree, and you pass three yearly re-registration review, where you have to prove that you have completed the necessary professional development to stay up to date.

    What you describe with unqualified people teaching students is not possible in Australia. The threat of religion via religious schools is low. Most of the time, they have to teach curriculum, with an hour a week religious instruction (RI) and a prayer at assembly. The schools are subject to government inspection and must pass accreditation if they are to be licenced. No licence, no school.

    My children went through such a school, even though I am an atheist. The academic prowess of the school was renown and my children had worked out for themselves that gods don’t exist. They both did very well academically.

    So I feel for you concerns in the UK. Each country has its own idiosyncrasies. The Australian model of funding per student works well.

    As an aside, my daughter was appalled that she got an A for religion. She spent the whole year questioning the RI instructor asking skeptical questions He must have liked her approach. What really annoyed her was her brother got a C. The students could suggest material for discussion during RI. He suggested they watch Life of Brian. The teacher took it home to check, and only got through the Big Nose scene and deemed it inappropriate, so my son’s card was marked down.



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  • David R Allen
    That was the state of education in the UK until quite recently. All the free school stuff has been brought in on a wave of guff about parents right to choose – which apparently means the right to stop their children getting access to state mandated minimum standards of education. But then they have to have inspections like any other school so Christian schools have been slated for teaching creationism and muslim schools for teaching non muslims are less worthy than muslims and segregating sexes.

    My daughter who is now seven goes to a Church of England school and continually complains that they bring prayer into everything. They recently did a project about world wide access to clean water. She said to me “we are told to pray to Jesus to make it better but I think he’s had plenty of time to do that and hasn’t so you know maybe we should just raise money and try and fix it ourselves?”



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  • In Holland, both the primary and secondary (Up to mandatory 16th year attendance) schools are state funded (Taxpayer money), whether a school has a certain religious leaning or not. Government inspection checks the curriculum and the bias. On the whole, religion is in the dumps (Less than 17% of the population calls itself religious, vs 25% openly secular. The rest simply does not care). Since about 12 years, Saudi funding has crept into the islamic schools and mosques, which is a front for extremism. Luckily the inspection has closed these schools, or thrown out the teachers. Just goes to show that you can’t trust anything from islamic ilk, or any other religion for that matter



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  • As far as I am concerned, if the State has a “green” program where they are encouraging citizens to use recycled materials for various purposes and they are giving a financial incentive to encourage people to participate, then it ABSOLUTELY should NOT matter who chooses to implement that. It could be a private church school or the local whorehouse or the local jail as far as I am concerned. It really does not matter. How you choose to surface your playground has nothing to do with religion or education!! I am not in favor of the State using tax money to support specific religious issues, but there are certain aspects of a church facility, like a school, where the religion part is irrelevant. For example the buildings must meet various safety standards. Does the separation of Church and State say that the State has no right to enforce building safety codes? Of course not! Only an idiot would think that. And in my opinion, it is equally stupid trying to claim that a certain private organization cannot participate in various State funded environmental programs because of the separation of Church and State. A religious organization has some aspects that are specifically covered under the separation of Church and State and has some other features that are quite independent of this since they are people and organizations living in the US and functioning in the secular aspect of the society.
    I am not religious, and I am hugely in favor of ensuring that science and reason are not impeded by people who get power in our country and then want to inflict their superstitions on other people. But that can work the other way too. I have mixed feelings about Richard Dawkins on these issues since it is not at all clear to me that he is actually looking at these problems objectively. But as a rational person, that is why I subscribed to the Center for Inquiry. I want to understand peoples views and to participate in discussion, and I really don’t like seeing people who claim to be rational, stuffing an atheist ideology down peoples throats. I don’t have a problem with the atheist part. Its the “ideology” part that gets under my skin.



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  • @davidpun

    I have mixed feelings about Richard Dawkins on these issues since it is not at all clear to me that he is actually looking at these problems objectively.

    What is his riskiest piece of ideology…by way of illustration? How shared amongst New Atheists is it do you think?

    The problem with vague complaints is their vagueness. Maybe the issue is fixable?



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  • The church has a real point when it claims it is being discriminated against. Churches are entitled to government assistance whenever such assistance is made freely available to all other applicants who meet the criteria for receiving it. If all businesses and public accommodations are eligible for government assistance for making a facility wheelchair accessible, shouldn’t churches be eligible as well? Should churches pay for police and firefighting services when every one else receives the same services without charge? Denying churches access to programs available to everyone else is the flip side of that other offensive practice, giving churches preferential tax status.



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  • How you choose to surface your playground has nothing to do with religion or education!

    How you choose to surface your playground has nothing to do with religion or education!

    Actually it has a great deal to do with religion, if it is a church owned playground where children are encouraged to become church members or fed religious beliefs.

    @OP – Four years ago, officials at Trinity Lutheran Church in Columbia, Mo., decided they would like to resurface a playground at the church’s religious preschool.

    (I’m not sure if religious activities or “religious preschool”, could be described as “education”!)



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  • mogee #14
    Mar 23, 2016 at 2:02 pm

    Should churches pay for police and firefighting services when every one else receives the same services without charge?

    I think you have this backwards.

    Don’t you mean tax exempt churches receive police and fire services free, while other taxpayers pay for them?

    The church has a real point when it claims it is being discriminated against. Churches are entitled to government assistance whenever such assistance is made freely available to all other applicants who meet the criteria for receiving it.

    Really???

    Tax exempt Churches are (claiming to be) entitled to government assistance whenever such assistance is made freely available to all other taxpayers who meet the criteria for receiving it, – having previously contributed their taxes to to the state funds which are being redistributed to projects of public benefit.



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  • David R Tully – So, you’re Australian. What does Australian law have to do with a SCOTUS case? Your comment is irrelevant. Our Constitution, and traditions, are all about keeping religion strictly out of government. As a Commonwealth Nation Australia has a State Religion, and a monarch who is the head of that religion. Well last I checked, if I’m confusing you with Canada sorry. But applying Australian traditions about the Church and State in a discussion of American Constitutional Law is absurd, apples and oranges.

    Besides, you’re not much of an atheist if you’re OK with your taxes subsidizing religious recruitment in schools. Education should center on critical thinking skills, not superstition. Parents who want their children brainwashed are welcome to eschew public education for private, but knuckling under to some old man in a dress playing games with childrens schooling after taking parents money? In the States, we call that fraud.

    People are welcome to their religion, but not at the expense of the public purse. Trinity Lutheran is in for a shock when it has to start paying tax! These RW nutjob attorneys are so dreadful, they’ll lead these fools straight into that, over a few hundred dollars for a playground that should be under a separate incorporation. This whole lawsuit stinks of Kim Davis style put up job by people who would make the USA a theocracy.



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  • Actually it’s David R Allen. BTW Tully is the wettest township in Australia.

    But Australia has the privilege of having a different social outlook from America. We see free education for all citizens as a right, to be funded by the taxpayer.

    A mere contrast of our different political and social systems. Nothing more. No comment on your perfect American Dream. Maybe something the US could aspire to.

    The second point I made, possibly not well enough, so I will make it again. Because religion in Australia probably runs around a 2/10 intensity compared to America’s 8/10 religious schools are no threat to the minds that attend. So you can safely send your children to a private Australian religious school, and apart from a prayer at assembly on Friday’s you wouldn’t notice anything different to our State schools.

    Did you know in our latest nationwide census, the fastest growing, and second only to the Catholics was atheists. Not NONE’s, or atheist lite agnostics. Real atheists. So religion has very little power or influence in Australian political life. How does that compare with the US. We have the occasional religious public figure, but they mostly just provide material for the stand up comics.

    So I am a little confused how you drew those conclusions from what I wrote at #1 above.

    We do not have a state religion. And we were almost a republic back in 2007(?) with the referendum only narrowly being defeat.

    p.s. Did you read my comment at #9. Maybe this would help explain your confusion.



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  • There’s already a bill before the Missouri Senate which would exempt Religious Organizations from lawsuits based on their religious beliefs that they can discriminated against the LGBT community even though Same-Sex Marriages are now legal law of the land. If Religious Organizations want federal or state funds then they should be forced to abide by all laws and regulations of the US and state governments. In my book they can’t have it both ways.



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