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.
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.
I’m not sure I want my students to succeed.
How’s that for an attention-grabber? Now I'll skillfully jump back and lay the foundation for such an outrageous claim and hope it’s enough to keep you reading until we reach it again further on.
We’ll soon hit a full year of trying to figure out how public education works (or doesn’t) during a pandemic. Some of the experience gained may be specific to 2020 – the social and political dynamics of which have not been even remotely encouraging (see what I did there?).
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.
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...
The 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.
A “Hall of Separation”
That’s a horrible title and I wish I could stop thinking it’s not.
As you probably know, given that it’s pretty much all I talk about these days, I’ve been researching Supreme Court cases involving issues of church-state separation in relation to public education. My hope is to have something ready before the entire system collapses and any benefit one may derive from it is no longer relevant.
Like many school systems, Hawkins County schools teach “critical reading” as opposed to reading exercises that teach only word and sound recognition. “Critical reading” requires the development of higher order cognitive skills that enable students to evaluate the material they read, to contrast the ideas presented, and to understand complex characters that appear in reading material…
From a constitutional standpoint, the most interesting thing was the natural tension which sometimes occurs between free exercise and non-establishment. Socio-emotionally, however, the real hand grenade was the question of individual parental rights (with a side of religious freedom) vs. the presumed long-term good of the child and of society as a whole. Civilization is premised on the idea that we’ll each forego a degree of personal autonomy in order to benefit from participation in society. Schools are a major part of that arrangement.