Archives for category: Separation of church and state

This case will go to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is now packed with justices who want to tear down the “wall of separation” between church and state. Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, Barrett, Thomas, and Alito, possibly Roberts, are likely to agree that Maine cannot deny funding to religious schools. Espinosa v. Montana set the stage for the next school funding decision; that ruling said that if a state funded any nonpublic schools, it must all nonpublic–including religious–schools.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has rejected a challenge to the state of Maine’s decision not to use public education funding to pay for tuition at private religious schools, preserving Maine’s efforts to prevent public funding of religious education. Public Funds Public Schools filed amicus briefs in the case – Carson v. Makin – to support the Maine law. 

The Institute for Justice, a group of pro-voucher lawyers behind the Carson v. Makin litigation, has vowed to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the First Circuit’s ruling. PFPS will continue to support the law before the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary. 

Maine’s constitution, like those in all 50 state
s, contains an affirmative obligation on the state to maintain and support a system of free public education available to all children. To carry out this mandate, for nearly 150 years the Maine Legislature has permitted local school districts that do not operate their own public schools for geographic or historical reasons to pay tuition to approved, nonsectarian private schools for resident children.

Participating private schools must comply with a host of legal requirements to ensure they meet state standards for an appropriate, nondiscriminatory education.

The First Circuit rejected prior challenges to the Maine law in 1999 and 2004, and Maine’s highest state court rejected similar claims in 1999 and 2006. In 2018, Institute for Justice lawyers filed yet another lawsuit in the federal courts seeking to overturn Maine’s decision not to include private schools offering religious instruction in the state’s tuition program. 

In Carson v. Makin, the Institute for Justice argued that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, which upheld a private school voucher program that included religious schools, required overturning Maine’s law. However, the Maine federal district court held that the state’s exclusion of religious schools from the tuition program did not violate the free exercise of religion and other rights guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S Constitution. 

The PFPS amicus brief to the First Circuit emphasized Maine’s compelling interest under its state constitution in providing a free public education to all Maine children in schools that comply with state standards, including the requirement that they not engage in religious instruction. PFPS further argued that including religious schools would undermine Maine’s carefully limited program designed to provide a publicly funded education in the narrow circumstances where a district-operated secondary school is unavailable. 

The brief also detailed how including religious schools in the tuition-based program would divert significant funding away from Maine’s already underfunded public schools. Finally, PFPS warned that because religious schools often discriminate based on a student’s religious faith, disability, sexual orientation and other factors, including these schools in the tuition program would entangle Maine in regulating matters of religion or result in using taxpayer dollars to fund discrimination.

The First Circuit’s opinion upholding the Maine law explained that: “[g]iven limited public funds, the state’s rural character, and the concomitant scarcity of available public school options for residents of many [districts], we do not see why the Free Exercise Clause compels Maine either to forego relying on private schools to ensure that its residents can obtain the benefits of a free public education or to treat pervasively sectarian education as a substitute for it.”

“The First Circuit’s ruling is a powerful affirmation of Maine’s longstanding decision not to use limited taxpayer dollars to pay tuition at schools that do not provide a secular education meeting state standards to all children, free from discrimination,” said Jessica Levin, ELC Senior Attorney and PFPS Director. “We stand ready to push back efforts to divert Maine’s public funds to religious schools.”

For more information on voucher litigation and PFPS amicus briefs, visit the Litigation page of the PFPS website.

Press Contact:Sharon KrengelPolicy and Outreach DirectorEducation Law Center60 Park Place, Suite 300Newark, NJ 07102973-624-1815, ext.

Steve Hinnefeld, a regular commentator on education in Indiana, regrets that Amy Coney Barrett was not asked about vouchers during her hearings.

He notes that she served on the board of a Catholic school in Indiana that received state voucher funds and that openly discriminated against same-sex families.

Barrett served from 2015-17 on the board of Trinity School at Greenlawn, a South Bend Catholic school, the New York Times reported. Trinity had a policy during Barrett’s time on the board that effectively prohibited same-sex couples from enrolling their children in the school, according to the Times.

That would seem to cast doubt on Barrett’s claim in her confirmation hearing that she had “never discriminated on the basis of sexual preference” and would not do so. It also raises policy questions about whether publicly funded institutions should practice discrimination.

Katherine Stewart and I were invited by the Massachusetts Historical Society to discuss the assault on public schools by the religious right, libertarians, billionaires, and entrepreneurs.

Stewart is the author of an important new book called The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.

Since Massachusetts was the birthplace of public schools, it was a fitting venue for our conversation.

Webinar recorded 30 September 2020 — Will Public Education Survive?: A Look at the Threats to Education Systems from Privatization and Religious Nationalism with Katherine Stewart and Diane Ravitch, New York University The rise of the Religious Right has coincided with the privatization movement in public schools. While some may feel that this is coincidental, there is reason to believe there is a directly causal relationship between these two factors. Two scholars, from different disciplines, will discuss how their work comes together to help explain the history and current state of efforts to diminish, if not dismantle, the American public education system. Katherine Stewart has written on the rise and increasing power of the Religious Right in her book The Power Worshipers. She will be joined by Diane Ravitch who has written extensively on education and, in her recent book Slaying Goliath, explores the history of the school privatization movement and the efforts to oppose it.


One week today, I will participate in a statewide Zoom meeting with education activists in Texas, hosted by Pastors for Texas Children.

It is a fundraising event for the important work of Pastors for Texas Children, which is a great friend to the five million children who attend public schools in Texas. PTC has been a powerful force in the effort by parents and civil groups to block vouchers in Texas. They have done this by reminding people that separation of church and state is the best protection of religious liberty and that we all have a civic duty to support our community public schools and make them better for all children. PTC, in addition, has helped to organize similar organizations in other states where public schools are under assault by privatizers.

Peter Franchot, the State Comptroller of Maryland, wrote in the Washington Post that many small businesses are failing and need government aid to survive. Main Street, he warns, is at risk of turning into a ghost town.

He wrote:

The scene on Main Street America is bleak.

Darkened storefronts adorned with “Closed” and “For Lease” signs have become common sights in both urban and rural areas.

Maryland is no exception. From my hometown in Takoma Park to the bucolic charm of Chestertown, many businesses have shuttered or are hanging on for dear life.

But wait! Didn’t the first and only bailout include $660 billion to rescue small businesses? It was administered by the Small Business Administration. What happened to the money?

Thanks to ProPublica, there is a link to a search engine to see where the money went. You will be surprised to see that billions went to religious organizations, private schools, and charter schools.

In the search engine, type in “religious organizations.” You will see that federal aid went to churches and synagogues representing a wide variety of sects. One of the largest grants–$5-10 million–went to Joyce Meyer Ministries. I scanned the site and noticed that her educational background consists of three honorary doctorates from religious institutions of higher education. She is a “charismatic Christian” who spreads the gospel. Is her ministry worthier and needier than hardware stores, restaurants, and other Main Street businesses? I don’t object to Mrs. Meyer, but I do object to federal aid for religious groups.

What happened to separation of church and state? Why was the Trump administration dispensing millions to religious groups while small businesses were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy? When did it become the role of the federal government to bail out churches, synagogues, religious schools, and religious organizations?

Paul Dorr is a little-known figure who has led numerous successful campaigns against bond issues in rural America over the past 25 years. He opposes public education. He believes that all education should be centered in religion and the church. Dorr is also active in opposing abortion and supporting gun rights. He burns books that he does not approve of.

A viral Facebook video offers some clues. It shows Paul Dorr, father of Aaron, Ben and Chris Dorr, burning books he checked out from a local library. 

It turns out the elder Dorr educated his 11 children at home, and took them along to protest outside abortion clinics as part of Operation Rescue.

Like his sons, Paul Dorr is active in politics. He’s developed a reputation as a fierce opponent of public schooling and works as a hired gun to help defeat school bond referendums across the Midwest.

But as Paul Dorr says, his reason for attacking public schools is “almost always not my client’s reason.” His clients may simply want to keep property taxes low.

But Paul Dorr’s plan is to eliminate public education entirely – to see the public education system “one day be gone, and restore education back into the hands of families, the parents and the Christians.”

This article describes his efforts to defeat a school bond issue in Worthington, Minnesota, intended to build a new high school.

Paul Dorr is:

a vehement opponent of public schools and supporter of religious-centric home-schooling who’s led campaigns that have helped defeat scores of bond issues in nine states — mostly in the upper Midwest — for the past 25 years. “Public education is a sin against God,” he has said. 

In the election season three years ago, Dorr was working as the communications consultant for a group called the Worthington Citizens For Progress Committee. It had created the flier. 

Dorr would eventually sharpen the anti-school-bond group tactics with a Facebook page, website, videos and memes to target local businesses, politicians and media. 

The material accused the school district of exaggerating the harm if the bond didn’t pass. It claimed the school board was mismanaging money and was incompetent, even deaf. The committee encouraged people not to eat at restaurants where school bond information was displayed and wrote critically about business leaders who supported the new school.

Dorr, who doesn’t live in Worthington — or in Minnesota, for that matter — was deploying tools of attack that seemed more fitting for political combat on a national stage, not a school bond vote in the American countryside. People were stunned.

Two months after the first signs of Dorr at King Turkey Day, the district lost its referendum vote — the first of four failed attempts between the fall of 2016 and the winter of 2019 to raise taxes for a new school.


The rise of the Religious Right has coincided with the privatization movement in public schools. While some may feel that this is coincidental, there is reason to believe there is a directly causal relationship between these two factors. Two scholars, from different disciplines, will discuss how their work comes together to help explain the history and current state of efforts to diminish, if not dismantle, the American public education system. Katherine Stewart has written on the rise and increasing power of the Religious Right in her book The Power Worshipers. She will be joined by Diane Ravitch who has written extensively on education and, in her recent book Slaying Goliath, explores the history of the school privatization movement and the efforts to oppose it.

Please note, this is an online event held on the video conference platform, Zoom. Registrants will receive an email with links to join the program.

Link to register:–Reli

Nancy Bailey writes here about Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ contempt for the time-honored tradition of separation of church and state. She has made clear her strong preference for religious schools and her low opinion of public schools. We have never in our history had a Secretary of Education (or before the Education Department was created in 1980, a Commissioner of Education) who was so flagrantly hostile to public schools. Reagan’s second Secretary of Education Bill Bennett was a cheerleader for “choice,” but in the early 1980s, he didn’t have the wind behind his back nor did he have Betsy’s billions to advance the cause.

The United States is a very diverse nation, where people are associated with scores of different religions or none at all. The Founders wrote the First Amendment to prohibit the establishment of any official religion and to protect the free exercise of religion. They knew the dangers of state-sponsored religion. In our time, rightwing libertarians and anti-government ideologues are using their political clout to support government funding for religious schools.

It’s worth noting that every state referendum on vouchers for religious schools has gone down to a decisive defeat, most recently in Arizona, where 65% said no to vouchers.

DeVos has taken advantage of the pandemic to divert billions of dollars to private and religious schools, usually at the expense of public schools, which enroll the students with the greatest needs.

One good reason to vote for Joe Biden is to send DeVos home to Michigan.

He can’t possibly appoint anyone worse than DeVos.

Tom Ultican, retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics in California, writes frequently about school “reform,” aka school choice, as a substitute for adequate funding.

In this post, he explains the fraud of school choice and why billionaires and rightwing zealots promote it. To read it in full,as well as his kinks, open the full post.

He begins:

Birthed in the bowels of the 1950’s segregationist south, school choice has never been about improving education. It is about white supremacy, profiting off taxpayers, cutting taxes, selling market based solutions and financing religion. School choice ideology has a long dark history of dealing significant harm to public education.

Market Based Ideology

Milton Friedman first recommended school vouchers in a 1955 essay. In 2006, he was asked by a conservative group of legislators what he envisioned back then. PRWatch reports that he said, “It had nothing whatsoever to do with helping ‘indigent’ children; no, he explained to thunderous applause, vouchers were all about ‘abolishing the public school system.”’ [Emphasis added]

Market based ideologues are convinced that business is the superior model for school management. Starting with the infamous Regan era polemic, “A Nation at Risk,” the claim that “private business management is superior” has been a consistent theory of education reform promoted by corporate leaders like IBM’s Louis Gerstner, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Wal-Mart’s Walton family, Bloomberg LP’s founder, Michael Bloomberg and SunAmerica’s Eli Broad. It is a central tenet of both neoliberal and libertarian philosophy.

Charles Koch and his late brother David have spent lavishly promoting their libertarian beliefs. Inspired by Friedman’s doyen, Austrian Economist Friedrich Hayek, the brothers agreed that public education must be abolished.

To this and other ends like defeating climate change legislation, the Kochs created the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). This lobbying organization has contributing members from throughout corporate America. ALEC writes model legislation and financially supports state politicians who promote their libertarian principles.

Like the Walton family and Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch promotes private school vouchers.

Katherine Stewart, a scholar of rightwing evangelicals, writes in The New Republic about Betsy DeVos’s brazen transfer of public funds to private schools during the pandemic. Stewart is the author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. Stewart surveys the generous distribution of federal funds to private and religious schools, far more generous than the federal money for public schools. As you have read in numerous posts and in a study by the Network for Public Education, charter schools, which enroll about 6% of American students collected $1 billion to $2 billion from the Paycheck Protection Program. Stewart shows that private and religious schools collected even more. This was no accident. It is part of DeVos’s long-term goal of destroying public education.

She writes:

How much more does the Trump administration value the children of elite private and religious schools than the children who attend public schools? We can answer the question with some hard numbers. Public school students merit something like $266 apiece in extra pandemic-related funding. Kids attending the right private schools are worth $5,000 each or possibly much more.

That $266, by the way, is an overestimate. It’s what you get when you take the $13.5 billion allocated for K-12 education in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act of this past March and divide it up among the nation’s 50.8 million public school students. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made sure to siphon some of that money for private and religious schools, which she has long favored, although she did receive pushback: On July 22, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), joined by school districts in California, Connecticut, and Colorado, sued DeVos and her department over the policy, calling it “as immoral as it is illegal…”

The $5,000 per student figure for some private schools cited above comes out of the Paycheck Protection Program, which was established by the CARES Act and implemented by the Small Business Administration. Public schools aren’t eligible for PPP money, which is technically a loan but will be forgiven if the funds are used for expenses that meet certain criteria. Although the SBA does not disclose exact loan amounts, it does make public the recipients receiving more than $150,000 and identifies amounts within broad ranges.

With this information, we know that Buckingham Browne & Nichols School, a private pre-K–12 school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a $75 million endowment and a student body of around 1,013, where annual tuition runs up to $52,300, collected a loan of between $5 and $10 million—or roughly $5,000 to $10,000 per student. (The school did not respond to multiple requests to confirm the exact amount.)…

Georgetown Preparatory School, which serves about 500 students on 93 acres in North Bethesda, Maryland, and whose notable alumni include Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, collected a $2.7 million PPP loan, which works out to $5,440 per student. According to an analysis by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the total amount of large PPP loans given to private and religious schools was at least $2.67 billion and as much as $6.47 billion—or about half as much as the total for all schools under the CARES Act, even though private and religious schools educate only 10 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren.

And these schools could potentially receive even more. DeVos stuffed a provision in the CARES Act for “equitable services” that may send another $1.35 billion, which might otherwise have gone to public schools, to private schools. She’s also giving them a cut of the $3 billion Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund…

The religious school beneficiaries remain free, as they always have been, of the anti-discrimination laws that apply to public schools. For example, Cathedral High School in Indiana took in a PPP loan of between $2 and $5 million ($1,700 to $4,200 per student), but it fired a teacher for having a same-sex spouse. The Foundation Academy in Winter Garden, Florida, whose 2016-17 handbook informs school families that the husband “has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family” while “a wife is to submit herself graciously” and which groups “homosexuality, lesbianism bisexuality” along with “bestiality” as grounds for expulsion, took in between $1 and $2 million in PPP money. Americans United estimates that at least 4,006 religious schools, or about 70 percent of private school recipients, received large PPP loans.

There is no indication, however, that the private schools receiving PPP money are under anything like the pressure the Trump administration is applying to public schools to fully reopen in the coming school year. When Fairfax County public schools offered parents a choice between in-person and remote learning, DeVos denounced the move in vehement terms. (The district has since announced that the 2020-21 school year will be fully remote.) But the Fairmont Preparatory Academy of Anaheim, California, which took in a minimum of $5 million, or $7,700 per student in PPP money, is offering families the same choice, so far with no criticism from the Department of Education…

Betsy DeVos did not take over the Department of Education in order to improve public education as we know it but to degrade it. She came to office with an ideology as simple as it is destructive: Government should get out of the business of education, she has consistently maintained. DeVos brought with her two powerful interest groups. On the one hand are the privatizers, on the other are the proselytizers, and both paws are reaching for the same pot of taxpayer money.

In a May radio interview, Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the Catholic archbishop of New York, asked DeVos whether she was trying to “utilize this particular crisis to ensure that justice is finally done.” “Yes, absolutely,” she replied. Alluding to her longstanding efforts to divert taxpayer money to sectarian schools, DeVos said, “For more than three decades that has been something that I’m passionate about.”

The public has consistently underestimated the extremity of the agenda against public schooling. Listen more carefully to what DeVos and her backers are actually saying. For decades, Christian nationalist leaders have denounced public schools as hotbeds of secularism. For just as long, reactionary economic ideologues have condemned them as breeding grounds for socialism. DeVos’s boss simply repeats the message at a louder volume: During his Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore, Donald Trump said public schools are teaching kids to “hate our country” with a “far-left fascism that demands absolute allegiance.” They all understand at some level that a robust public school system is one of the pillars of a modern, progressive, pluralistic, and democratic society. That’s why they want to destroy it.