Church-State Issues Loom
Matt Chery on what the Supreme Court has to decide next.
In its next session, the Supreme Court will consider several more conflicts in the 'culture war' between secular progressives and the religious right. The most high profile case will be the review of the lower court ruling that public schools cannot include "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The court may also review whether the Ten Commandments can be displayed on public property. In 1980, the Supreme Court struck down a law requiring the posting of the commandments in public schools. Recently, many lower courts have been judging whether displays of the Decalogue are permissible on other government property, such as court buildings. The courts have been inconsistent, often influenced by how obtrusive the display is and whether a genuine historic context is involved. The Supreme Court may now step in and make a clear ruling.
A third church-state separation case may prove more important, though less emotionally charged. A lower court ruling, Davey v. Locke (2002), held that the state of Washington erred when it refused a scholarship to an otherwise qualified student because he would use the money to pursue theological studies at a religious college.
Davey v. Locke follows in the wake of Zelman v. Simmons (2002), where the Supreme Court dismayed secularists by ruling it permissible for government to include religious schools in a voucher program if the parents could choose between sending their children to either a religious or non-religious private school. If it upheld Davey, the court would go further than Zelman by requiring, not just allowing, government to fund religious schools in certain circumstances.
Supporters of churchstate separation would gain a half victory if the Court reversed the ruling in Davey and continued to adhere to Zelman by leaving such funding decisions to the discretion of each state. The ideal secularist resolution would be for the Court to reverse Davey and assert that the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment already forbids the direct or indirect funding of religious schools.
In all these cases, the only certainty is that the Supreme Court's decisions will be hotly contested.