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Public Aid to Religious Schools -- Is It Right?

Public Aid To Religious Schools -- Is It Right?

June 15, 2020

The U.S. Supreme has announced that it will examine a Louisiana case which many say is at the heart of a major state-church separation issue -- government financial assistance to religious schools. The Clinton administration wants to ensure that students attending private and sectarian schools have access to computers and other high-tech equipment.

Supporters of such assistance argue that the money or equipment provided by the government benefits students rather than the school, and does not advance religion in any way. But critics insist that it impossible to really distinguish between efforts to help individual students, and the overall aid to the school. What do you think?

It's not a new debate in America. Beginning in 1855, Massachusetts and other states adopted constitutional provisions forbidding the granting of public funds to denominational or sectarian institutions. President Ulysses S. Grant urged respective states to "Encourage free schools and resolve that not one dollar of the money appropriated to their support shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school." He added, "Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and private schools entirely supported by private contributions. Keep the church and state forever separate."

In 1890, though, Archbishop John Ireland, in a speech to the National Education Association, proposed that government subsidize general nonsectarian education in parochial (Roman Catholic) schools, leaving to the church the expense of providing the religious education. What followed over the years were various experiments to use public money "only" for non-religious items or activities in the schools, such as reimbursement of transportation costs, textbooks, or special-needs teachers. No state monies were to be directly used to teach religion. As a result, some public schools even implemented "released time," which allowed certain students to leave the public school and go to a local church or other venue in order to receive religious instruction.

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