Thursday, March 8, 2012

Separation of Church and State, Sort Of

In TIME, Jon Meacham has a pretty good piece on Rick Santorum's misunderstanding of JFK's speech on the separation of church and state.
Here is what JFK said: "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President—should he be Catholic—how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him."
Rick, of course, interprets that to mean that JFK wanted to eliminate religion from politics entirely, disallowing (for example) John Kerry's bishop from entering the political fray to spout off about the then-candidate's position on abortion.

JFK wanted fairness, not secularism. It's interesting to note that he included in that fairness that "no church or church school is granted any public funds." Want to take a guess on whether Dryden taxpayers pay for any of the following for Covenant Love Community School, the local K-8 school housed in the old Love Inn, with the mission statement "Covenant Love Community School is Christ-centered and relationally-based, assisting parents to train and equip children to fulfill God’s purposes for their generation": books, computers, special education services, speech therapy, transportation? How about all of the above and more?

Some of this is federal; in 2000's Mitchell v. Helms, the Supreme Court ruled 6 to 3 that federal aid would be provided to religious schools in the form of books and computers. Some of it is state: Although the 1894 Blaine Amendment to our NYS Constitution declared that there would be no public monies spent on the running of religious schools except for the purposes of "visitation and inspection," a 1938 amendment to the amendment allowed taxpayer support for transportation to those schools, and in 1970, the Legislature authorized spending taxpayer dollars for testing, reporting, pupil services, building maintenance, and some tuition costs for poor children. This made a stink at the time for violating the separation of church and state, and the law was slightly amended to call for reimbursement of testing fees when those tests were required by the state. But most of it still exists, and nobody thinks much about it. I didn't until I was on the school board and confronted with these costs, and I admit to being completely astonished.

Perhaps Rick Santorum would feel better about things if he understood how thoroughly separation has eroded over the years. If he thinks only about prayer in school and discussion of contraception in health classes, he's seriously missing the boat.

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