In a pair of decisions in the past week, the Supreme Court took a major step forward in both education and religious liberty by ruling that states can’t discriminate against religion in education in the name of erecting a wall of separation between church and state. If you turn on cable news, you’d think the justices had mandated the force-feeding of communion wafers to schoolchildren. In reality, these decisions are the modest culmination of a line of cases undoing glaring judicial mistakes of the 1970s. They come at an opportune time, providing support to parents who are dissatisfied with the conventional education system, which failed their kids during the pandemic.
The First Amendment prohibits laws “respecting the establishment of religion.” The state of Maine (in Carson v. Makin, decided June 21) and a Washington school district (Kennedy v. Bremerton, on Monday) used this rationale to forbid, respectively, tuition assistance to parents who send their children to religious schools and quiet prayer on the football field by a high-school coach. The justices ruled that these were violations of the First Amendment’s other religion clause, which bars laws prohibiting the free exercise of religion.