The school money goes to the parents
On August 27, the Nevada ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuit in Clark County to stop the Educational Savings Account program that makes Nevada one of the best states for school choice. The lawsuit cites Article XI, Section 10 of the Nevada Constitution that forbids public funds being used for “sectarian purposes.”
When we talk about ISIS as a throwback to the 12th century, remember religious persecutions in western civilization were just as violent into the 17th century. The Protestant Reformation caused what is known as the Thirty Years War in Europe between different religions, primarily Catholics and Protestants. In 1648 at the Treaty of Westphalia, the modern nation-state system was created to try to end religious violence.
The religious strife in Europe led to the colonization of America. The Pilgrims and others came to our shores seeking religious freedom. Only one colony, Maryland, was a haven for persecuted Catholics. Immigration in the early years of the Republic was only 2 percent Catholic. Many of the colonies established one religion or another and supported their pet religions with taxpayer money.
After the Constitution was ratified, many were concerned that a religious sect would gain control of the federal government and establish a national religion. In 1801 Connecticut Baptists expressed their concern to President Thomas Jefferson because the established religion in Connecticut was Congregationalism. Jefferson, who was called an atheist anarchist by his political enemies, wrote back assuring them that he believed in a “wall of separation” between Church and (the federal government) State. Jefferson, like most of the founders a moderate Deist, opened federal buildings to church services. Later the states voluntarily repealed their establishment laws.
In the 19th century, waves of Catholic Irish and German immigrants changed American demographics. The Democratic Party welcomed immigrants, the Republican Party was generally nativist. It is no coincidence that Catholic Jeb Bush is the most immigration friendly of Republican presidential candidates. During the Grant administration, Republican Congressman James G. Blaine tried to pass a constitutional amendment forbidding federal funds or land grants to religious institutions. Although the federal amendment failed, 38 states—including Nevada— adopted the amendment into their constitutions.
The “common school” movement in America was implicitly Protestant. Many who bemoan getting religion out of the schools believe in a Bible-based, essentially Protestant curriculum. Catholics were never comfortable sending their children to the common schools and formed the parochial school system, the largest religious private school system in America. In 2007, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights published a report showing that “sectarian” as used in the Nevada Constitution was at the time a code word for “Catholic.” Oregon even tried to prohibit parochial schools. That law was struck down by the Supreme Court. Americans United for Separation of Church and State founded in 1947 was originally called “Protestants and other Americans United for Separation of Church and State” and urged the House un-American Activities Committee to investigate Catholic Cardinals for espionage.
It is a shame that the ACLU lends itself to these lawsuits. The U.S. Supreme Court, and nearly all state supreme courts, have ruled against their argument. School choice programs like Nevada’s do not fund “sectarian” schools, but give vouchers directly to parents. A parental decision to spend the money for a parochial education does not violate the Separation of Church and State.
It would be better if the ACLU sued to end the public school system entirely, but perhaps since their preferred religion, secular humanism, is the new state religion taught therein, they attack private religious schools instead.