The Supreme Court Should Strike Down Missouri’s Ban on State Funds for Religious Institutions

June 21 2017

The Supreme Court will soon issue a verdict in Trinity Lutheran of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, a case in which a Missouri church qualified for a state grant to renovate its playground but was denied because the state’s constitution prohibits giving any funds to religious institutions. The clause in question is known as the Blaine amendment, after the 19th-century Republican congressman who proposed it; although his campaign to do so failed on the federal level, nearly two-thirds of all states adopted such amendments. Explaining the historical context, Philip Hamburger argues that the Supreme Court should strike down Blaine amendments everywhere:

For decades, states had used taxes to support public and private schools controlled by Protestants, with the goal not merely of Americanizing but of Protestantizing Catholic children. There were widespread fears that Catholics would balance this out by voting for politicians, mostly Democrats, who would direct tax funds to public or private schools dominated by Catholics.

Blaine’s amendment appealed to such fears by preventing tax money from coming under the control of any “religious sect.” Existing constitutional provisions against establishments of religion did not bar public spending on education from reaching schools with religious affiliations, and Blaine’s amendment did not propose to alter this arrangement except by excluding Catholics. The Catholic Church, being attached to its orthodoxies, had theological objections to cooperating theologically with Protestants, and it therefore could only operate schools that were distinctly Catholic or “sectarian.” In contrast, Protestants were willing to join with Protestants of other denominations in running schools.

Thus, when the Blaine Amendment stated that public money could not go to institutions belonging to any one “sect,” it effectively proposed to prevent money from reaching Catholic institutions—without cutting off funds for institutions shared by Protestant denominations. . . .

To be sure, states in many instances can reasonably choose not to fund churches. But when the Blaine amendments narrowly single out “sectarian” institutions, or when, as in Missouri, they categorically exclude all ecclesiastically-affiliated institutions, they reveal theologically-driven discrimination.

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More about: Catholic Church, Freedom of Religion, Politics & Current Affairs, Supreme Court

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war