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Religious Schools Qualify for Public Funds

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Missouri was altogether predictable because it involved the anachronistic Blaine Amendments ("Supreme Court Says State Playground-Grant Program Can't Exclude Religious Schools," The Wall Street Journal, Jun. 27).  In this particular case, Missouri had denied the church the grants available to schools under the Playground Scrap Tire Surface Material program.

Although the high court's ruling was quite narrow, it was the latest in a series of legal decisions that have slowly but surely eroded the wall between church and state.  The Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision in 2002 was the landmark case in that regard.  Then in the wake of the Trinity Lutheran decision, the high court overturned a ruling that had struck down Colorado's school voucher program on religious grounds.  I expect to see further rulings that allow public funds to go to religious schools, except for the most egregious reasons.

I'm not a lawyer, but I fail to understand how denying financial aid to religious organizations even for something as seemingly trivial as repaving a school playground can be construed as violating the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of free religious exercise.  Churches and their schools can continue to practice their religion as they wish, but they shouldn't be given public funds.  Further, I think the high court's majority opinion misses the essence of the case.  It said that church schools would otherwise be "eligible recipients" if it were not for "their religious character."  But that is precisely the issue.  Otherwise, there would not have been a legal challenge in the first place. They are religious, which is why they should not qualify for public benefits.

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The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner's Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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