Archives for category: Separation of church and state

Randi Weingarten is not only president of the AFT, she is a lawyer. Below is her reaction to the Supreme Court ruling. She calls it a “seismic shock.” She sees the decision as one more step in the relentless rightwing effort to defund and privatize public schools. She thinks the decision set the stage for an even more radical decision, one that requires states to fund religious school tuition as some states (think Florida, Indiana, Ohio) currently do.

Randi is right, but I was actually relieved that the decision was not far worse. I was afraid that the current Supreme Court, with Trump’s addition of two super-religious justices (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh), would overturn all Blaine amendments and require states to pay religious school tuitions in full. But the decision was far narrower. It said that any state that has a program to fund private schools must admit religious schools to the same program. So Montana, which has a private scholarship program, must include religious schools on the same footing as other private schools. That means that the Espinoza family has won $150 per year for all their troubles.

People like Betsy DeVos and her American Federation for Children, Jeanne Allen and her Center for Education Reform must be terribly disappointed that the decision did not tear down Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between state and church,” thus compelling states to pay full tuition for students at religious schools, regardless of their ideology, their quality, or their lack of certified teachers. That didn’t happen, thank God!

The public schools, the schools that nearly 90% of all American families choose, the schools that educated the overwhelming majority of the American people, have survived a close call. If Biden wins in November and Ruth Bader Ginsburg remains healthy until Biden’s inauguration, we will in time have a Supreme Court that supports public schools.

Randi warns:

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue:

“This ruling in the Espinoza case is a seismic shock that threatens both public education and religious liberty. It is a radical departure from our Constitution, American history and our values. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent, this ruling is ‘perverse.’

“Never in more than two centuries of American history has the free exercise clause of the First Amendment been wielded as a weapon to defund and dismantle public education. It will hurt both the 90 percent of students who attend neighborhood public schools, by siphoning off needed funds, and, in the long term, those who attend religious schools by curtailing their freedom with the accountability that comes with tax dollars.

“The court’s narrow conservative majority joined with Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and other wealthy donors and special interests to attack public education and turn the First Amendment on its head. What’s even more disturbing is that some justices wanted to go even further.

“While the court didn’t invalidate the 38 state constitutional provisions that preclude public money from going to religious schools, it came very close. The financial backers of this case will now use it to open the floodgates to litigation across the country.

“I hope the court and the plaintiffs understand that by enabling this encroachment on religious liberty, they are also opening up religion to state control and state interference. With public funding comes public accountability. Upending the carefully constructed balance of free exercise and separation of church and state not only undermines public education, it is a grave threat to religious institutions and organizations.

“In this time of national crisis, we have seen the importance of our public schools. Children across the country rely on public education for far more than just academics: Thirty million kids eat lunch in school, 12 million eat breakfast in school, and schools provide millions more with their healthcare. We should be prioritizing additional resources for public education and other vital social programs, not diverting them to private purposes.

“We are not going to give up. In fact, we are only going to fight harder. Parents, teachers and their unions stood up and fought back—and we will continue to do so each and every day, whether in court, in Congress, in state legislatures or at the ballot box.

“When it comes to Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ attacks on public education, we will see them in November.”

The Supreme Court just released a 5-4 decision in the case of Espinoza V. Montana that struck down a provision in the state constitution banning public funds to religious schools.

The decision seems to be narrowly tailored to say that if a state provides aid to private schools, it can’t bar aid to religious schools. I will post expert opinions on this as soon as they are available.

The many rightwing groups arguing on behalf of the plaintiffs (Espinoza) said that the ban was rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry (Blaine amendments), but Montana’s ban was enacted in 1972.

The decision will be celebrated by DeVos and other conservatives but it is not the knockout blow they were hoping for. If states don’t fund any private schools, they don’t have to fund religious schools. Conservatives were hoping to tear down Jefferson’s “wall of separation between church and state.” That didn’t happen.

The Los Angeles Times reported, in a story titled “Religious Schools Are Entitled to State Grants Given to Other Private Schools, Supreme Court Rules”:

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that states may not exclude religious schools from tuition grants that support other private schools.
The justices, by a 5-4 vote, decided that denying grants to students in church schools amounts to unconstitutional discrimination against religion.

The decision is a victory for advocates of school choice, and a setback for those favoring strict interpretation of the principle of church and state separation.

Montana, like more than 30 other states, has a long-standing state constitutional provision that forbids spending tax money to support churches and their affiliates. On that basis, the state supreme court blocked a state-sponsored scholarship program that would give grants to parents sending their children to private and parochial schools.

The Wall Street Journal reported:

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court struck down a Montana constitutional provision banning state aid to parochial schools, ruling that states cannot exclude religious institutions from programs benefiting nonsectarian private schools.

The program began in 2015 and provided up to $150 in tax credits for donations to scholarship funds that helped students attend private schools. State tax authorities determined that donations to religious schools didn’t qualify. Then Montana’s Supreme Court, citing a state constitutional ban on state aid to sectarian schools, struck down the whole program.

Some parents who sought to send their children to Stillwater Christian School in Kalispell, Mont., said they couldn’t afford the tuition without the program, and otherwise would have to rely on public schools.

In an appeal to the U.S Supreme Court, these challengers argued that the state constitution’s ban stems from a 19th century bias against Catholics and their parochial schools—and that the state constitution violated the federal Constitution by discriminating against church schools.

Many other states have similar restrictions, often called Blaine amendments after Rep. James Blaine (R., Maine), who unsuccessfully proposed a similar provision for the federal Constitution.

While anti-Catholic bias helped fuel the 19th century drive for Blaine amendments, Montana argued that its 1972 constitutional convention, which re-enacted the provision, had not been tainted by religious bigotry.

Conservative groups backing the Montana suit hoped it would pave the way for broader taxpayer subsidy of religious schools through vouchers and other programs, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s relaxation of the separation between church and state in recent years.

The advocacy group called Public Funds a Public Schools gathered a useful archive of research studies of vouchers.

The studies were conducted by nonpartisan academic and federal researchers.

The findings are broadly congruent.

Voucher schools are academically inferior to public schools.

Voucher schools divert funding from public schools, which enroll most children.

Voucher programs lack accountability.

The absence of oversight promotes fraud and corruption.

Voucher programs do not help students with disabilities.

Voucher schools are allowed to discriminate against certain groups of students and families.

Voucher programs exacerbate segregation.

Voucher programs don’t work, don’t improve education, and have multiple negative effects.

Jane R. Wettach of Duke Law School has written a study of North Carolina’s voucher program. It is expensive, having cost the state thus far nearly $160 million. It diverts money from the public schools. Most of the voucher schools are religious schools. Voucher schools do not participate in the state’s accountability program so the academic progress—or lack thereof—cannot be assessed.

Some of the author’s conclusions:

The overarching assessment of the initial review of the voucher program from our previous report remains true: The North Carolina voucher program is well designed to promote parental choice, especially for parents who prefer religious education for their children. It is poorly designed, however, to promote better academic outcomes for children and is unlikely to do so over time.

 The public has no information on whether the students with vouchers have made academic progress or have fallen behind. No data about the academic achievement of voucher students are available to the public, not even the data that are identified as a public record in the law. The State Education Assistance Authority (SEAA), which administers the program, concluded that the reporting of tests scores in aggregated form, as required by the legislature, produces no meaningful information. Therefore, the SEAA has discontinued requiring schools to produce the data and it no longer publishes any reports on test scores.

 The number of children receiving vouchers has increased ten-fold since it began: from approximately 1,200 in the first year to 12,300 in 2019-20. Although the program has attracted additional students each year, the rate of growth has been less than the General Assembly anticipated and not all of the appropriation has been spent.

The program is designed to 3xpsnd but it seems likely that most of the available slots will not be used.

92% of vouchers are used in religious schools.

This is a program designed to have no accountability for results of any kind:

Other potential accountability measures for North Carolina private schools receiving vouchers do not exist. Unlike private schools in most states with similar voucher programs, North Carolina private schools accepting voucher money need not be accredited, adhere to state curricular or graduation standards, employ licensed teachers, or administer state End-of-Grade tests.

The program is nothing more than a pass-through of public money to parents who want their children to have a religious schooling, without regard to quality.

The amount of the voucher is small, about $4,200, not enough for a high-quality education, but just right for an inferior religious school without certified teachers. This is what the NC General Assembly wants.

Parent advocates in Dallas are concerned about the fiscal impact of new charter schools at a time when the budget of the public schools are stretched thin.

Lori Kirkpatrick wrote here about the dangers of introducing new and unwanted charters.

Public education advocates don’t understand how it makes sense to introduce new charters when existing public schools are in fiscal trouble.

They expressed concern that all available state funds should be focused on helping existing district and charter schools meet the challenges of COVID-19, not on opening new charter schools. Public funds for education should be targeted where they are needed the most.

Trustee Joyce Foreman stated, “DISD is experiencing unbudgeted and unanticipated costs to ensure that DISD students have equal access to technology for virtual learning, and meals for continued health and wellness. This is not the time for reduced resources to our public school district that serves the vast majority of students who also have the greatest needs.”

Advocates also raised specific issues about the proposed new campuses including:

Waxahachie Faith Family Academy (FFA) – an alternative education accountability campus (AEA) with significantly lower accountability standards than most Dallas ISD schools and the district. For example, 4th graders at FFA scored significantly lower that 4th grade students at a Dallas Elementary school that is only 2.2 miles (4 minutes) from the FFA campus but has similar student demographics:

– 27% on state tests for reading (23 points lower) and 26% for math (32 points lower) than the Dallas ISD elementary school.

Uplift Education Wisdom Prep – the proposed Uplift campuses would result in an estimated revenue loss of up to $100 million to Dallas ISD over 10 years, using projected estimates of full enrollment.

Both proposed charter campuses are located in close proximity to academically acceptable Dallas ISD schools. The new FFA site at 200 W. Wheatland Road is located only 2.1 miles (5 minutes) from DISD’s academically acceptable David W. Carter High School (C rated). The expansion of Uplift Wisdom Prep at 301 W. Camp Wisdom Road is located 1.4 miles (< 5 minutes) from B rated DISD campus Umphrey Lee Elementary School, 0.4 miles (1 minute) from DISD’s Terry Elementary School (C rated), and 2.7 miles from DISD’s David W. Carter High School. Wisdom Prep is C rated and was Improvement Required the prior year under the name Pinnacle.

These new campuses are proposed through the charter amendment process which allows an existing charter to open a new campus anywhere in Texas once they meet certain TEA requirements. The approval is at the sole discretion of the TEA Commissioner of Education. There is no public notice about the amendment requests to open new campuses, and little opportunity for public input. Most parents and community members are unaware that these charters are proposed to open new campuses in their neighborhoods.

Foreman stated, “This lack of public notice and input in the charter expansion process goes against our need for more not less transparency in how decisions are made about the use of public funds. Parents spoke out against the FFA expansion in 2018 – and they are still against any such expansions.”

Lori Kirkpatrick issued the following alert for parent advocates for public schools in Dallas:



Waxahachie Faith Family Academy (FFA) has asked the Texas Education Agency (TEA) for approval to open a new charter campus in Dallas at 200 W. Wheatland Road to serve grades 9 – 12. FFA currently operates charter campuses in Dallas (Oak Cliff) and Ellis counties.

Please send an email to Mike Morath, Commissioner of Education, if you are concerned about the expansion of Faith Family Academy in Dallas. If possible, please post this information on social media to inform other parents and community members. The TEA decision had not been made as of May 5, 2020, but it is expected soon, so please act now.(

Here are critical concerns about Waxahachie Faith Family Academy:

• All available state funds should be used to help existing public schools respond to the on-going challenges of COVID-19. Districts are facing unbudgeted and unanticipated expenses needed to support students and their families. In this dire budget situation, we should focus state funds where they are needed most.

• The proposed Waxahachie FFA campus will be located in close proximity to a Dallas ISD High School rated academically acceptable. The new FFA site at 200 W. Wheatland Road is located only 2.1 miles (5-minute drive) from DISD’s David W. Carter High School which is rated academically acceptable for the last three years.

• Waxahachie FFA does not inform parents on its website that it is evaluated under alternative education accountability (AEA) provisions. Campuses and districts registered under AEA provisions meet significantly lower accountability standards than most Dallas ISD schools and the district. Yet FFA does not include this critical information on its website to fully inform parents about FFA’s accountability standards. In fact, FFA states that: “Faith Family Academy is an A-rated district by the Texas Education Agency – higher than every public school district in our service area!”

• Waxahachie Faith Family Academy does not budget to adequately meet critical needs of its students. FFA spends zero dollars on guidance and counseling services, compared to a per student expenditure of $436 by Dallas ISD for counseling. Students in grades 9 – 12 especially require counseling services to help them with class schedules, academic advising, and college access.

• Waxahachie Faith Family Academy spends less on instruction and more on administration. FFA is an alternative education accountability school with lower accountability standards than most Dallas ISD schools and serves students at risk of dropping out. Yet, it spends $563 less per student on instruction than Dallas ISD schools, and more than double per student on general administration expenses.

• Waxahachie underserves students with special needs, enrolling only 5.7 percent compared to the state average of 9.6 percent. It’s a serious concern that a charter school should be allowed to expand unless it serves close to the state average of students with special needs. In addition, Waxahachie’s 2019 Special Education Determination Status is “Needs Intervention” which raises additional concerns about the services it delivers to this student population.

Recently Trump promised Catholic leaders that if he is re-elected, he would fund Catholic schools.

These two Christian leaders explain why that’s a terrible idea.

Valerie Strauss introduced the essay:

Late last month, President Trump had a phone conversation with Catholic leaders, educators and others, during which he promised to seek federal financial support for parochial schools to help them weather the coronavirus pandemic, according to Crux, an online website that focuses on news about the Catholic Church.
Trump also declared himself the “best [president] in the “history of the Catholic Church,” according to Crux, which quoted from what it said was an audio recording it had obtained of the call. And he promised to keep supporting issues that are important to the Catholic Church, such as opposition to abortion.

Trump and his education secretary, Betsy DeVos, have been supporters of expanding alternatives to traditional public schools, especially programs that use public funding for private and religious school education. The first school that Trump visited as president was a Catholic school in Florida in 2017, and he has repeatedly praised state programs that use public funding for religious school expenses…

The authors are Meli Barber, vice president of DignityUSA, a Boston-based organization that focuses on LGBTQI+ rights and the Catholic Church; and Charles Foster Johnson, founder and executive director of Pastors for Texas Children, an independent ministry and outreach group that comprises nearly 2,000 pastors and church leaders from across Texas.

Barber and Johnson write, and I quote only a part of their excellent essay:

By redistributing taxpayer funds to private religious schools, voucher programs threaten marginalized students, religious freedom, and public education. We are also deeply concerned about religious leaders from many traditions, including our own, who would accept or promote voucher funding for private religious schools.
As leaders in national Christian organizations, DignityUSA and Pastors for Children, we advocate for the universal education of all children provided and protected by the public. Voucher funding for Catholic schools violates this public trust.

For decades, DignityUSA has advocated for policies that respect the inherent worth and dignity of LGBTQI+ people. Public schools educate all students, in keeping with the inclusive vision of education laid out in the U.S. Constitution and Title IX. The U.S. Constitution “guarantees all people, including LGBTQ people, ‘equal protection of the laws,’” and Title IX “provides important protections to LGBTQ students.” According to the National Coalition for Public Education, directing public funds to private voucher programs could put the civil rights of LGBTQI+ students at risk.

Pastors for Children has long raised concerns about how vouchers harm religious liberty. These programs force the nation’s religiously diverse taxpayers to fund religious education we may disagree with. The differences between our traditions are crucial, and none of us should be compelled by federal or state governments to fund schools that promote religious teachings that violate our conscience rights.

I urge you to read their essay in full.

Peter Greene reports here on a conference call that Catholic leaders held with the execrable Trump.

He promised them unparalleled financial support for Catholic schools, and they promised their support to the man who separates families and puts children in cages.

It was a nasty, revolting transaction.

Greene links to the National Catholic Education Reporter, which says that the transaction was really about abortion, and Catholic schools (which have been destroyed by charter schools claiming to offer the same things as Catholic schools but for free). It’s editorial says:

This unholy alliance with Trump, coupled with the GOP stacking of the Supreme Court, may get the bishops the abortion ban they so covet, but it will not end the debate. They may even get the federal money they desperately need to extend the fading life of Catholic schools. But all of it will have been purchased at the expense of a whole range of other life and justice issues.

It will have been purchased in concert with a president whose primary modus operandi is that of a bully devoid of empathy or concern for the common good. If one actually believes Trump’s current gushing about Catholic schools and the right to life, Dolan might also be offered a great deal on a bridge somewhere in the vicinity of the cathedral.

It need not be this way. The bishops themselves, in the conclusion to “Faithful Citizenship,” describe a different approach. It is worth repeating the points here:

“The Church is involved in the political process but is not partisan. The Church cannot champion any candidate or party.”

“The Church is engaged in the political process but should not be used. We welcome dialogue with political leaders and candidates; we seek to engage and persuade public officials. Events and photo ops cannot substitute for serious dialogue.”

“The Church is principled but not ideological.”

The Catholic bishops’ uncritical alliance with Republicans and Trump obliterates those principles and allows Catholics to dismiss the document as lacking any serious intent.

The alliance also further distances the church from any leverage it might otherwise possess on a host of issues on the Catholic social justice agenda deeply affecting life of the vulnerable and marginalized, as well as from any hope of brokering modifications to abortion on demand with Democrats.

The Catholic voice, capable of a priceless contribution to the public conversation, has been sold for cheap to political hucksters.

In an editorial in late January, the National Catholic Education Reporter lacerated the leadership of the Roman Catholic churchfor its alliance with Trump, who has no religion and no convictions.

Its editorial said then:

The selling of the church’s moral authority is complete. When someone so morally bankrupt and demonstrably anti-life as Trump, a misogynist who brags about assaulting women and whose primary interaction with others is to demean and degrade, can command the obeisance of the nation’s Catholic leaders, the moral tank has been emptied. A few Franciscan friars on the periphery provided the rare witness that being pro-life for Catholics requires far more than opposing abortion.

The display on the mall drains the phrase “pro-life” of meaning and sells the church even deeper into service of an ideology that severely diminishes Catholicism as a credible moral force in the larger culture.

The church’s credibility was sold to the highest political bidder and the chief auctioneer banged the gavel down on the final deal.

Trump is interested only in transactions. He hasn’t a gnat’s understanding of transformation, of persuasion that doesn’t involve his idea of a deal. His words on the mall and the cynical use of the Vatican in Vice President Mike Pence’s call-in from Rome sealed this wretched transaction.

The Catholic Church in the United States has been used and manipulated by the era’s most unconscionable con artist. He wanted your faces, your shouts of support, what will undoubtedly become in his universe “the biggest assembly of Catholics ever for any president in history!”

He’s got the images he needs. It won’t be the last time you’ll see them. Welcome to his campaign.

Listening to educators and the state school board, Governor Gary Herbert vetoed a voucher program for students with special needs.

Critics pointed out that the state has had a. Oh her program for students with special needs for 15 years and doesn’t need another one. They also noted that Utah had a state referendum in 2007, and the public voted overwhelmingly against vouchers.

The voucher advocates always begin their campaign by seeking vouchers for children with special needs, even though private schools receiving vouchers are exempt from the federal protections for these students. In this case, Utah has long had such a program. But in other states, such as Florida and Arizona, ouches for students with disabilities is the prelude to many more requests, each targeted to a new group. The ultimate goal is universal vouchers, with no limitations. The size of the voucher is always far less than the tuition at high-quality private schools, but a much-welcome subsidy for those already enrolled in religious schools.

Katherine Stewart is the author of a new book, The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism. This article, which appeared as an opinion piece in the New York Times, is essential reading to understand the Trump-supported effort to eliminate the separation of church and state, to give religious organizations the right to discriminate against those they do not like, and to open government funding to religious groups. The U.S. Supreme Court will rule in a case called Espinoza v. Montana this spring, a crucial case that gives the conservative Court an opportunity to compel public funding of religious schools. It is a curious fact that libertarians like the DeVos family and the Koch family oppose almost every form of government funding (Social Security, Medicare) except for government money for religious schools.

She writes:

Many Americans know by now that when Christian nationalists talk about “religious freedom” they are really asking for the privilege to impose their religion on other people. What Americans may not yet understand is that they are also demanding money from taxpayers to do so.

Long before Donald Trump hitched his political fortunes to the Christian right, previous Republican administrations had primed the pumps that would send public money flowing toward religious organizations.

In 2002, the George W. Bush administration increased the flow of federal money to faith-based organizations providing services on behalf of the government. Mr. Bush himself insisted that these organizations would not be permitted to discriminate. But in fact the new method of faith-based funding invited the risk of discrimination and the erosion of church-state separation.

The Obama administration, responding to these concerns, put in place provisions to ensure that members of the public were not subject to discrimination on the basis of religious belief or unwanted proselytizing. The provisions also required that users of church-sponsored social programs be made aware of nonsectarian options.

The Trump administration is now proposing to eliminate these Obama-era safeguards. And true to form, they did so earlier this year, on the increasingly Orwellian-sounding annual Religious Freedom Day in January.

One purpose of the new proposed regulations is to make sure that organizations receiving taxpayer money are exempt from the kinds of anti-discrimination law by which nonreligious organizations must abide. If that sounds like a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, that’s because it is — or at least it should be.

Under the proposed regulations, faith-based aid organizations that receive public money are free to hire and fire their workers and subcontractors on account of their religion, sexual orientation, or any other behavior or characteristic that the organization finds religiously appealing or objectionable. Aid-providing organizations will no longer have any obligation to let members of the public receiving their services know if there are available nonsectarian options. Organizations that receive their money through vouchers and other forms of indirect aid can now proselytize, require that recipients participate in religious activities or ask that recipients pledge their loyalty to Jesus. And the government itself is no longer required to offer a nonsectarian option for those whose beliefs or conscience make it impossible for them to accept aid on these terms.

“The proposed rules would strip away religious freedom protections from people, often the most vulnerable and marginalized, and even allow faith-based organizations to discriminate in government-funded programs,” Rachel Laser, president and chief executive of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told me. She added that this puts the interests of these organizations “ahead of the needs of the people seeking critical services.”

Why is the Trump administration so determined to tear down the wall of separation between church and state? The long game is clear: because that’s the way you “take back America” and make it a Christian nation.

But the short game is more relevant now. There is a pile of public money on the other side of the wall that separates church and state, and Christian nationalists are determined to grab it (and to hold on to what they have already grabbed).

These kinds of pro-discrimination rules are bound to cause harm. There may be a woman who loses her job at a faith-based service provider because she is “living in sin” with her partner. There may be people seeking counseling services who will forgo the help they need because it is offered only in conservative Christian health care settings and is staffed with Christian-only providers, all of whom claim to be living in conformity with a “Bible lifestyle.”

There will be some minority-religion providers — a Jewish soup kitchen here, a Muslim job-training initiative there — that will defend the new rules and claim to benefit from them. But they will serve, in effect, as strategic cover, lending the appearance of diversity to a movement that ties the idea of America to specific conservative religious and cultural identities.

Legitimizing these forms of discrimination is itself a grotesque violation of whatever it is that we actually mean by religious freedom. But that’s the point, as far as Mr. Trump and his Christian nationalist allies are concerned. The religious rights of the larger American public are collateral damage in a war of conquest aimed squarely at the public coffers.

To grasp the motivation for the Trump administration in promulgating “religious freedom,” it helps to review a little Supreme Court history. In 2017, the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo., brought a case in which the church claimed that it had an equal claim to government grants for purchasing materials to upgrade its playground.

At the time, many commentators raised a concern that the case was really just a device for eliminating Establishment Clause concerns from decisions affecting the public funding of religious institutions and activities. Lawyers from conservative Christian legal organizations, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, argued that refusing to allocate public money to religious institutions amounted to discrimination against religion. This theory, if it takes hold in law, significantly weakens the Establishment Clause. If withholding taxpayer money from religious institutions amounts to discrimination, then the taxpayer has no choice but to fund religion.

Some important things to know about today’s Christian nationalist movement: It doesn’t believe in the First Amendment as we usually understand it and as our founders intended it. It doesn’t believe that the government should make no law respecting an establishment of religion. It also takes a dim view of government assistance — unless the money passes through churches first. Politically connected religious leaders like Ralph Drollinger of Capitol Ministries, whose White House Bible study has been attended by at least 10 current and former members of Mr. Trump’s cabinet, maintains that social welfare programs have no basis in scripture. “The responsibility to meet the needs of the poor lies first with the husband in a marriage, secondly with the family (if the husband is absent), and thirdly with the church,” Mr. Drollinger has written. “Again, nowhere does God command the institutions of government or commerce to fully support those with genuine needs.”

These ideas are shared by David Barton, a historical revisionist who sits on the boards of an array of Christian nationalist legislative and data initiatives, pastoral networks and other influential groups. Mr. Barton has argued that the Bible and God himself oppose progressive income taxes, capital gains taxes and minimum wage laws. “Since sinful man tends to live in bondage, different forms of slavery have replaced the more obvious system of past centuries,” according to an essay posted to Mr. Barton’s WallBuilders website titled “The Bible, Slavery and America’s Founders.” “The state has assumed the role of master for many, providing aid and assistance, and with it more and more control, to those unable to provide for themselves. The only solution to slavery is the liberty of the Gospel.”

While these activists rail against direct government aid to the poor, they are eager to increase the flow of government handouts to churches and religious groups who may then provide the aid themselves, but without adherence to nondiscrimination law. As a further bonus, when the money gets funneled to religious organizations, some of it then can then be pumped back into the right-wing political machine through religious organizations and the policy groups they support, which act as de facto partisan political cells.

In order to understand the game that Christian nationalists are playing, it’s important to remember that the First Amendment has two clauses concerning religion: one that guarantees the freedom to exercise religion and one that prohibits the government from establishing any religion. What the framers understood is that these two come as a pair; they are necessarily connected. We are free to exercise religion precisely because the government refrains from establishing religion.

At present, the Christian nationalist movement has substantial sources of support in the form of access to wealthy donors and robust donor-advised charities. It also has a large base of supporters who make large numbers of small contributions. But leaders of the movement know that their bread will have a lot more butter if it comes from the government. They already receive significant funding indirectly from taxpayers in the form of deductions and exemptions. They are determined to secure these extra funds, and they are immensely fearful of losing them, especially if a pluralistic society decides to do something about the fact that its tax dollars are being used to fund groups that actively promote discrimination against many citizens and support radical political agendas.

In the future, if the Trump administration has its way, the current flow of taxpayer money to religious organizations may well look like the trickle before the flood. Religious nationalists dream of a time when most or all social welfare services pass through the hands of religious entities. They imagine a future in which a young woman seeking advice on reproductive health care will have nowhere to turn but a state-funded, church-operated network of “counseling” centers that will tell her she will go to hell if she doesn’t have the baby.

The discrimination against individuals and the misuse of public money that the Trump administration’s proposed regulations would allow is bad enough. But these are far from the worst consequences of this kind of assault on the separation of church and state. The most profound danger here is to the deep structure of American society and politics.

In 1786, when Thomas Jefferson and James Madison pushed through the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom that Religious Freedom Day commemorates, the issue that motivated them and that brought evangelical Christians at the time over to their side was a detested tax imposed on all Virginians to pay for the church services demanded by the established church. “To compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves and abhors, is sinful and tyrannical,” Jefferson wrote. “No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”

It is ironic, then, that the Trump administration’s religious freedom initiative seeks to fund religious organizations with taxpayer money. But what makes this particularly dangerous is that the same money in many cases goes to churches and religious organizations that are increasingly and aggressively asserting themselves in partisan politics, and that happen to support Mr. Trump. As Jefferson and Madison understood, the destruction of the wall that separates church and state corrupts politics just as surely as it corrupts religion.

The Hechinger Report invited two eminent scholars to write about how public schools might respond if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in the Espinoza v. Montana case. In this case, rightwing libertarians seek to eliminate Montana’s constitutional prohibition on spending public money for tuition in religious schools. In effect, they want to eliminate the line separating church and state. The Trump-enhanced Supreme Court has already ruled that it is permissible to discriminate on religious grounds against same-sex couples in a Colorado case where a baker refused to bake a cake for two men. Homophobia is okay if it is based on deep religious convictions.

The Hehinger Report asked Bruce Baker of Rutgers, an expert on school finance, Preston Green III of the University of Connecticut, a constitutional lawyer, to consider the ramifications of this case if the Court favors the plaintiffs.

They wrote the article, then discovered that Corey DeAngelis of the libertarian Reason Foundation and the CATO Foundation (founded by the Koch brothers) objected to their views, basing his objection on an entry in Wikipedia. He insisted that an earlier Supreme Court decision forbade private schools from discriminating on the basis of race. Professor Green said DeAngelis was wrong.

Instead of inviting DeAngelis to write a letter to the editor or post a dissenting comment, which is customary, the Hechinger Report inserted an editor’s note inside the article.

This is the paragraph with the editor’s note responding DeAngelis’ complaint. By the time you read this, the “editor’s note” may have been deleted. I was informed by an editor that the publication had decided to delete it.

Let’s assume that there exist state legislatures that would prefer not to have taxpayer dollars used to support religious schooling. Perhaps they are concerned with supporting schools that might discriminate in admissions or other treatment on the basis of sexual orientation of children or parents, or even race. (Editor’s note: Current Federal law does not permit private schools to discriminate on the basis of race.)

Preston Greene III wrote the following response as a warning to others: The Hechinger Report puts Wikipedia on the same level as scholarship. (DeAngelis received a Ph.D. in education policy from the Walton-funded Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, which holds a single point of view on school choice, and he regularly trolls anyone who disagrees with choice ideology on Twitter).

My own note: Fred Hechinger, for whom the Hechinger Report was named, was born in Germany and came to New York in 1936 at the age of 16. He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City and the City College of New York, at that time a free public college. He and his wife Grace were personal friends of mine. He opposed public funding of religious schools. He supported free and universal public schools. This is how the Hechinger Report describes the man whose name it bears: “Fred M. Hechinger was education editor of The New York Times, an author of several books and an advocate for public education. The Hechinger Report continues his efforts to produce and promote high-quality education coverage.”

Preston C. Green III

I am writing this post to alert my fellow professors about a situation I recently encountered after publishing a piece with the Hechinger Institute. This organization approached Bruce Baker and me to write an op-ed explaining the possible consequences of the Espinoza v. Montana State Department of Revenue case. In this case, the Supreme Court is considering whether states can prohibit parochial schools from participating in a tax-credit scholarship program. It is generally expected that the Court will hold that states cannot act in this manner.

In this op-ed, we explained that states might respond to this potential decision by placing curricular restrictions on participating schools or even refusing to fund private education altogether. We even posited that states might respond to the Court’s expected decision by dramatically reducing their investment in charter schools.

We did not get much pushback for these points in the op-ed. However, Corey DeAngelis, adjunct scholar of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom and the Director of School Choice at the Reason Foundation, claimed on Twitter that we were wrong to suggest that parochial school participants in school voucher programs might even consider discrimination on the basis of race. He supported this assertion by citing a Supreme Court case, Runyon v. McCrary. DeAngelis posted a screenshot of the purported holding, which he got from Wikipedia. According to this summation, Runyon held that “[f]ederal law prohibits private schools from discriminating on the basis of race.” On the basis of this “evidence,” DeAngelis demanded that Hechinger correct this alleged error.

I responded on Twitter by posting a screenshot of the pertinent part of the actual case, which included the following statement (italics added):

It is worth noting at the outset some of the questions that these cases do not present. They do not present any question of the right of a private social organization to limit its membership on racial or any other grounds. They do not present any question of the right of a private school to limit its student body to boys, to girls, or to adherents of a particular religious faith, since 42 U.S.C. § 1981 is in no way addressed to such categories of selectivity. They do not even present the application of § 1981 to private sectarian schools that practice Racial Exclusion on religious grounds. Rather, these cases present only two basic questions: whether § 1981 prohibits private, commercially operated, nonsectarian schools from denying admission to prospective students because they are Negroes, and, if so, whether that federal law is constitutional as so applied.

The italicized section clearly established that the Court in Runyon did not address the question of whether § 1981 prohibited sectarian schools from racially discriminating on the basis of religious belief.

DeAngelis insisted that a retraction was in order reposting the Wikipedia screenshot and claiming that parochial schools would never discriminate because they might lose their tax-exempt status. Other people joined in on Twitter claiming that we were fearmongering because no school would ever consider discriminating on the basis of race for religious reasons – the stakes were too high.

Although I would like to believe we are past the time that schools would not overtly try to discriminate on the basis of race, I do not share this rosy view. My parents received part of their education in racially segregated public schools in Virginia. And although I did not attend a racially segregated school, I also experienced several incidents of overt discrimination.

The Hechinger editor asked Bruce Baker and me over email about the Twitter avalanche from DeAngelis and his supporters. I explained that DeAngelis’s understanding of Runyon was incorrect. The Court’s decision expressly did not address the legality of parochial schools claiming racial discrimination on the basis of religious belief. I even cited cases in which parochial schools attempted to exploit this loophole in Runyon (the courts rejected this assertion on the ground that the discrimination was not based on sincere religious belief).

Two days later, our editor emailed Bruce Baker and me again, explaining that her superiors wanted to place a note after the offending sentence to the effect that racial discrimination violated federal law. We responded by explaining that this statement was overly broad. It was true that parochial schools that discriminated on the basis of race ran the risk of losing their tax-exempt status. It was also true that a parochial school that discriminated on the basis of race ran the risk of losing its federal funding (if it received such aid). However, it was false to assert that federal law explicitly prohibited parochial schools from racially discriminating in their admissions. To summarize our position: While it was unlikely that a parochial school would discriminate on the basis of race in its admissions policy, federal law did not explicitly prohibit it.

Our editor then responded by suggesting an editors’ note that federal law made it unlikely for a parochial school to discriminate on the basis of race. I agreed to that parenthetical statement.

To our surprise, the following day, we received an email from the editor telling us that her superiors had overruled her. The overly broad editors’ note was back in. We were also told that there was nothing we could do about it. We have yet to hear any convincing explanation why Hechinger rejected our reasoning regarding this legal issue.

I am disappointed and, frankly, outraged, that Hechinger acted in this manner. When DeAngelis challenged our assertions, we cogently explained why we believed he was wrong. Yet Hechinger did not support the well-reasoned legal opinion of two scholars in the field it had specifically asked to research this issue. Instead, it bowed to online pressure even after we had spent more time providing additional background and case law. Other professors should consider our experience if Hechinger approaches them for an op-ed.