Two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions concerning prayer in schools and federal funding of private schools have the potential to reshape the world of public education, blurring the line between church and state.
The decision in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, released yesterday, found in favor of a Washington coach who had been fired by his public school district. He was fired for refusing to stop the prayers he had been conducting midfield after games—prayers that had created conflict in the district and made some students feel pressured to join in.
The court’s decision in Kennedy extends the First Amendment to protect certain religious speech, while many previous court decisions give educators no protection for speaking out on corruption, abuse, and dangers to public safety.
“Coerced religious activity should not be something our students need to worry about,” says CEA President Kate Dias. “This decision ignores the pressure students will feel if school staff observe their religion in public ways in a school setting.”
Last week, in Carson v. Makin, the Supreme Court issued a ruling that allows for public, taxpayer dollars to be funneled to private, religious schools. The decision requires Maine to give public money to private religious schools, diluting the quality of education the state can then provide via schools that welcome all students.
“Our public schools provide a quality education to all children, regardless of their background, family religion, or academic strengths and weaknesses,” says Dias. “This ruling will weaken the education states can provide to the vast majority of students when funding is syphoned off to religious schools that educate few students and often discriminate against students and employees.”
She concluded, “Public education has been the foundation of our democracy and should be publicly-funded, free, and open to all without discrimination. These cases attempt to rewrite the commitment we as a country should have to welcome and provide a quality education to all students.”