The Separation of Church and State

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States states that:Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

“The Supreme Court on Tuesday struck down a Maine tuition program that does not allow public funds to go to religious schools,…

“The vote was 6 to 3, with Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. writing for the majority and the court’s three liberals in dissent.”

“’There is nothing neutral about Maine’s program,” he wrote. “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools — so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion.’

“Justice Sonia Sotomayor, one of the dissenters, answered, ‘This Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build.’”  “Supreme court-Maine-religious schools”

Where public funds are provided to support the education of our children, they should not discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs. That is what the separation of church and state means to me. I don’t understand Justice Sotomayor’s position. Public funding of all schools except religious one is religious discrimination pure and simple. It is the State interfering in religious choices.

In my opinion, the relevant government authority choosing to support the education of children should provide the parents of each child with a tuition voucher that can be used at any certified school (including home schooling). As an aside, while I defend the right of parents to school their own children at home, I think it is a mistake to do so as the school experience is more than what is in the text books. Quite clearly, banning the use of such vouchers at Catholic, Hebrew or other religious schools would be discriminatory and should not be allowed (as the Court ruled).

I also support a Universal Basic Income. “Our social safety net” Disallowing its use to send your kids to a religious school would violate fundamental principles of equal treatment and religious freedom that we hopefully all believe in.

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

2 thoughts on “The Separation of Church and State”

  1. Warren, All true, but the public schools are an important element in the “coat of many colors” that is our common culture. And they are in danger. I attended public school for 13 years, if one includes kindergarten; in retrospect, I can see that it was a decade-long experience in socialization that I would not have changed for a private school education. Maine is an odd case: it seems likely to me that the justices took the local context — trackless wilderness, patchy public school availability, especially at the high school level, into account in reaching their decision. What should concern the judicious observer, however, is the fact that some elements in our society will seize on the High Court’s decision as a license to dismantle the structure of public education because they believe it is a monolith run by the Left and dedicated to furthering the goals of progressive culture. Impossible, you say? Take a look at the “deliberations” of the Texas Legislature’s current session, and tell me with conviction that we don’t need to worry about how these people would like to remake our culture on a model foreign to my worldview and convictions. Even the loss of the smallest thread, when torn from the whole, can weaken the coat of many colors.

    1. Yes, the education of our children is important for them and for society. I admit that there is an advantage in being to being able to walk to the neighborhood school and socialize there. But when the quality of education in that school is poor, parents should be able to take the money spent on their child in the neighborhood and spend it on a better one of their choice. African American parents are especially supportive of charter schools and such programs because their neighborhood schools are more often poor. But not only is it fairer to allow parents to choice their schools with tuition vouchers, but the competition that provides public schools often improves the public schools. Competition is good.

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