The Supreme Court Will Soon Decide Whether Praying in Public Schools is a Firing Offense

“In April,” Vincent Phillip Muñoz writes, “the Court heard oral arguments in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District, a case involving a football coach at a public high school who lost his job after repeatedly kneeling on the 50-yard line in post-game prayer.” Muñoz notes that school officials had good reason to believe that the coach’s conduct violated tests used by the Supreme Court to enforce the Constitution’s establishment clause. This case, he argues, presents an opportunity to overturn harmful and erroneous precedents regarding “what constitutes a prohibited establishment of religion.”

The Court’s “endorsement” test holds that state actors, including public-school officials, may not endorse religion. . . . A different establishment-clause precedent prohibits schools from “psychologically coercing” students to pray. That test, created by Justice Anthony Kennedy, led the Court to strike down nondenominational invocations and benedictions at high-school graduations (Lee v. Weisman, 1992). And the Court still has not thrown out Chief Justice Warren Burger’s “Lemon” test that requires the government act with a secular purpose, not advance religion, and also not “excessively entangle” itself with religion.

These long-established establishment-clause precedents all derive in one way or another from the Court’s original “wall of separation” decision in Everson v. Board of Education (1947). They also mean that, once school-district officials found out about Coach Kennedy’s prayers, they were all but obligated to try to stop it lest they face a lawsuit for “endorsing” religion, indirectly coercing students to pray, or improperly advancing religious belief.

Therein lies the first of several problems with the Court’s establishment-clause precedents. They effectively demand government hostility toward religion. If school district officials don’t act against religious activities and expressions, they will be sued by the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, or some other like-minded progressive activist organization. The easiest way for administrators to avoid controversy is to simply keep religion off school grounds.

Read more at First Things

More about: American law, Freedom of Religion, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood