Blogs

Barbed Wire (from "Have To" History)

Three Big Things:

1. Barbed wire became the fencing of choice in the west after the Civil War. It was relatively cheap, withstood a wide range of conditions, and held back the biggest, most stubborn livestock.

2. Barbed wire favored homesteaders moving west, who tended to be small farmers. It threatened, and eventually helped destroy, the mythical “open range” and cowboy culture.

3. Barbed wire is rarely asked about specifically in history standards; it’s central to a wide variety of stuff that is, however.

Teacher Evaluations (Hammers & Nails)

Reality TV MontageThere’s a difference between caring how well you’re actually doing your job and caring how well you do on official evaluations. Ideally, the two at least overlap - like a Venn Diagram or pop and hip-hop. That’s not always a given, however. In practice, it’s often more like the relationship between reality and reality TV.

What's In A Blaine?

Know Nothing Flag

While it was not always mentioned by name, several major decisions of the Court in the early 21st century very much involved the history and potential future of the “Blaine Amendment.” Blaine is a general label applied to various provisions in 37 different state constitutions limiting or prohibiting the use of state funds to support religious organizations or sectarian activity. The precise wording and application vary from state to state, and 13 states don’t have one at all. Most Blaine Amendments are actually sections or clauses in their respective state constitutions and not “amendments” at all, but the term has proven persistent. Plus, it’s used in the singular (collectively) or plural more or less interchangeably – so that’s kinda fun.

One Nation Mumbles God (Is the Pledge Constitutional?)

One Nation Mumbles God

General, brief references to the Almighty have been a part of innumerable American traditions since long before the First Amendment was an ink spot on James Madison’s parchment. It has thus been difficult at times for the Court to reconcile the proverbial “wall of separation” with a history demonstrating that the authors of the sentiment obviously didn’t mean everything. Unlike compromises over slavery or state vs. federal power, there’s no evidence the Framers willingly kicked this constitutional can down the road for their scions to sort out. They simply saw no conflict between a reasonable degree of religious acknowledgement in public life while shielding personal faith from the machinery of government. 

To Sleep, Perchance To Sue...

Mary Sleeping

This particular case involves the hiring and firing of private school teachers in religious schools. What I'm currently wrestling with is an apparent contradiction between how the Court treats private religious schools when it comes to school choice ("hey, these are just schools doing school things for valid school reasons like any other schools, except they happen to have a religious point of view... give them all the tax money or it's religious discrimination") and how it treats the same religious schools when they're firing teachers for being old or getting sick ("hey, these are religious institutions whose whole function is spreading their faith... you can't hold them accountable for anything they do or else it's religious discrimination"). Now, let me be clear – I realize it's certainly not that simple. The devil is in the--

Actually, that's probably not an appropriate idiom with this specific topic. Sorry about that.

Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994) – Part Three

Satmar Students

Even Scalia couldn’t have genuinely believed that the First Amendment only kicked in once an institution attained a specific number of members or reached a preset threshold of political power. Playing on the struggles of the Satmar to set up the straw argument that the issue was one of dominance over the rest of New York was disingenuous at best, red-meat ranting better suited to Fox News than the nation’s highest court.

Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994) – Part Two

Kiryas Joel was (and is) a community of particularly insular Hasidic Jews (the Satmars) in New York. Most of their children attended private religious schools, but they asked the state for assistance providing care and education for their special needs children. Initial efforts to serve these particular children ran into conflict with recent Supreme Court rulings which struck down several public school efforts to serve high needs kids in religious institutions. New York responded by allowing the Satmars to create their own neighborhood and later a publicly funded neighborhood school tailored to their precise boundaries.  

As a practical matter, it certainly solved the problem. Constitutionally, on the other hand...

Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet (1994) – Part One

Getting Hasidic With ItThe circumstances of Kiryas Joel were unusual enough that the logistics themselves offer little to guide future students, parents, educators, or administrators. For anyone not living or working in a carefully constructed community of cultural outliers who end up with their own state-financed school district for special needs children, there seems (at first glance) to be little reason to devote more than a few lines to the case and its outcome.

And yet, taken in context, the case offers several points of interest and possible instruction – even for those uncertain what Hasidic Judaism even means

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