separation of church and state » ADL Blogs
Posts Tagged ‘separation of church and state’
August 28, 2014 0

Town of Greece’s New Invocation Policy Excludes Religious Minorities

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent per­mis­sive leg­isla­tive prayer deci­sion (Greece v. Gal­loway) allows for sec­tar­ian invo­ca­tions at meet­ings of local leg­isla­tive bod­ies. Open­ing prayer prac­tices, how­ever, are not with­out limit. The deci­sion requires that a local leg­isla­tive body must imple­ment a non-discrimination pol­icy with respect to prayer givers.  The Town of Greece, New York —  a party to the Supreme Court case – recently adopted a new Town Board invo­ca­tion pol­icy.  This pol­icy cer­tainly vio­lates the spirit of the Greece decision’s non-discrimination man­date, but it is an open ques­tion whether it  actu­ally vio­lates it.supreme-court-civil-rights

The new pol­icy allows pri­vate cit­i­zens to sol­em­nize the pro­ceed­ings of the Town Board by offer­ing a “prayer, reflec­tive moment of silence, or a short sol­em­niz­ing mes­sage.”  How­ever, the per­son pro­vid­ing the sol­em­niz­ing mes­sage must be an appointed rep­re­sen­ta­tive of  “an assem­bly that reg­u­larly meet[s] for the pri­mary pur­pose of shar­ing a reli­gious per­spec­tive.”  The assem­bly must either be located within Greece, or it can be located out­side of town if a res­i­dent reg­u­larly attends the assem­bly and requests its inclu­sion on an offi­cial “Assem­blies List.”

The term “reli­gious per­spec­tive” cer­tainly encom­passes minor­ity faiths and non-believers.  Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeat­edly ruled that athe­ism and eth­i­cal human­ism are sin­cerely held reli­gious beliefs.  How­ever, while there may be Athe­ists, Bud­dhists, Eth­i­cal Human­ists, Jews, Mus­lims, Sikhs or other reli­gious minori­ties resid­ing in Greece, they may not have a con­gre­ga­tion within or prox­i­mate to town.  So the new pol­icy effec­tively deprives reli­gious minori­ties from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the invo­ca­tion oppor­tu­nity.   This is one rea­son why ADL views leg­isla­tive prayer prac­tices as divi­sive and poor pub­lic pol­icy.  If the Town of Greece truly wants to be inclu­sive and live up to the spirit of the Supreme Court’s non-discrimination require­ment, it should give all res­i­dents a true oppor­tu­nity to sol­em­nize Town Board proceedings.

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August 7, 2014 0

Legislative Prayer Ruling Does Not Permit Prayers by Local Lawmakers

In the recent Greece v. Gal­loway deci­sion, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the types of open­ing prayers or invo­ca­tions that may be given at pub­lic meet­ings of leg­isla­tive bod­ies.  Accord­ing to the Court, clergy or com­mu­nity mem­bers can deliver sec­tar­ian prayers before munic­i­pal and county boards, coun­cils, and com­mis­sions.  How­ever, a fed­eral court in Vir­ginia has just deter­mined that the Greece deci­sion does not give carte blanche for invo­ca­tions by mem­bers of a Board of Super­vi­sors at pub­lic meetings.town-hall-image

Based on the Greece deci­sion, a super­vi­sor asked the court to revoke an order bar­ring sec­tar­ian prayers by Board mem­bers at pub­lic meet­ings.  Due to sig­nif­i­cant fac­tual dif­fer­ences between the Greece deci­sion and this case, Hud­son v. Pitt­syl­va­nia County, the court refused.

In his deci­sion, Judge Michael Urban­ski indi­cated that the Greece decision’s over­ar­ch­ing prin­ci­ple is that gov­ern­ment offi­cials “can­not dic­tate the con­tent of prayers offered at local gov­ern­ment meet­ings.” But that would be the exact result of revok­ing the order.  Unlike the Greece case, hav­ing super­vi­sors offer the invo­ca­tions would deny peo­ple of other faiths that oppor­tu­nity.  Also unlike Greece, super­vi­sors often direct cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate in prayers by ask­ing them to stand for invocations.

Based on these fac­tual dis­tinc­tions, the court appro­pri­ately con­cluded that “the active role of the … Board of Super­vi­sors in lead­ing the prayers, and, impor­tantly dic­tat­ing their con­tent, is of con­sti­tu­tional dimen­sion and falls out­side the prayer prac­tices approved in Town of Greece.”

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January 29, 2014 0

National School Choice Week Is Really About Vouchers

It is National School Choice Week (Jan­u­ary 26th – Feb­ru­ary 1st), which sup­port­ers tout as a time to “high­light a vari­ety of school choice options — from tra­di­tional pub­lic schools to pub­lic char­ter schools, mag­net schools, pri­vate schools, online learn­ing, and home­school­ing.”  But the school choice move­ment is pri­mar­ily about fun­nel­ing tax­payer dol­lars to pri­vate schools, includ­ing reli­gious schools, through school vouch­ers and tuition-tax cred­its, also known as neo-vouchers.

Voucher pro­po­nents are ask­ing Amer­i­cans to do some­thing con­trary to the very ideals upon which our nation was founded: to pay taxes to fund reli­gion.  Indeed, vouch­ers require Amer­i­cans of all faiths or no faith to allow their tax dol­lars to be used for the reli­gious indoc­tri­na­tion of chil­dren at schools with nar­row parochial agen­das.  In many pro­grams, 80 per­cent of vouch­ers are used at schools whose cen­tral mis­sion is reli­gious train­ing.  And in such schools, reli­gion per­me­ates the class­room, the lunch­room, even the foot­ball prac­tice field.  Chan­nel­ing pub­lic funds to these insti­tu­tions flies in the face of the con­sti­tu­tional man­date of sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.

Imple­men­ta­tion of voucher pro­grams also sends a clear mes­sage that we are giv­ing up on pub­lic edu­ca­tion.  Vouch­ers may help some stu­dents. But the genius of the Amer­i­can sys­tem of pub­lic edu­ca­tion is that it is for all chil­dren, regard­less of their reli­gion, their aca­d­e­mic tal­ents or their abil­ity to pay a fee.  This pol­icy of inclu­sive­ness has made pub­lic schools the back­bone of Amer­i­can democracy.

Con­trary to this pol­icy of inclu­sive­ness, most school voucher pro­grams allow par­tic­i­pat­ing pri­vate schools to dis­crim­i­nate in some form or another.  For instance, some pro­grams allow schools to reject appli­cants because of low aca­d­e­mic achieve­ment or dis­ci­pline prob­lems.  Other pro­grams per­mit par­tic­i­pat­ing schools to dis­crim­i­nate on the basis of dis­abil­ity, gen­der, reli­gion, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and/or gen­der iden­tity.  And some pri­vate schools pro­mote agen­das anti­thet­i­cal to the Amer­i­can ideal.

Pro­po­nents of vouch­ers argue that these pro­grams will allow poor stu­dents to attend good schools pre­vi­ously only avail­able to the mid­dle or upper classes.  But vouch­ers will do noth­ing for poor fam­i­lies who can­not make up the dif­fer­ent between the voucher amount – typ­i­cally around $5,000 – and the typ­i­cally high cost of pri­vate school tuition.

School vouch­ers under­mine two great Amer­i­can tra­di­tions: uni­ver­sal pub­lic edu­ca­tion and the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state.  Instead of embrac­ing vouch­ers, com­mu­ni­ties across the coun­try should ded­i­cate them­selves to find­ing solu­tions that will be avail­able to every Amer­i­can school­child and that take into account the impor­tant legacy of the First Amendment.

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