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

The Reasons for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Staying Power

Nov. 20 2018

This week, Benjamin Netanyahu seems to have narrowly avoided the collapse of his governing coalition despite the fact that one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, withdrew and another, the Jewish Home, threatened to follow suit. Moreover, he kept the latter from defecting without conceding its leader’s demand to be appointed minister of defense. Even if the government were to collapse, resulting in early elections, Netanyahu would almost certainly win, writes Elliot Jager:

[Netanyahu’s] detractors think him Machiavellian, duplicitous, and smug—willing to do anything to stay in power. His supporters would not automatically disagree. Over 60 percent of Israelis tell pollsters that they will be voting for a party other than Likud—some supposing their favored party will join a Netanyahu-led coalition while others hoping against the odds that Likud can be ousted.

Opponents would [also] like to think the prime minister’s core voters are by definition illiberal, hawkish, and religiously inclined. However, the 30 percent of voters who plan to vote Likud reflect a broad segment of the population. . . .

Journalists who have observed Netanyahu over the years admire his fitness for office even if they disagree with his actions. A strategic thinker, Netanyahu’s scope of knowledge is both broad and deep. He is a voracious reader and a quick study. . . . Foreign leaders may not like what he says but cannot deny that he speaks with panache and authority. . . .

The prime minister or those around him are under multiple police investigations for possible fraud and moral turpitude. Under Israel’s system, the police investigate and can recommend that the attorney general issue an indictment. . . . Separately, Mrs. Netanyahu is in court for allegedly using public monies to pay for restaurant meals. . . . The veteran Jerusalem Post political reporter Gil Hoffman maintains that Israelis do not mind if Netanyahu appears a tad corrupt because they admire a politician who is nobody’s fool. Better to have a political figure who cannot be taken advantage of than one who is incorruptible but naïve.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics