The Last Freedom
The debate over the proper relationship between church and state, a debate as old as the Republic, has in our time taken on fresh intensity. The flashpoints range from abortion to the role of the so-called religious Right in American politics, but among the most delicate issues involved are those concerning education, in particular public support for private and parochial schools.
As is usual when it comes to education, much of the battle lately has been taking place on the local level. Thus, in 1990, at the urging of black parents frustrated with the wretched quality of the schools, a law was passed in Wisconsin making taxpayer-funded scholarships available so that poor families in Milwaukee could send their children to schools of their choosing, be they public or private; but when in 1995 the law was amended to include parochial schools, the Wisconsin supreme court held that this violated federal and state constitutional standards for the separation of church and state, and put a temporary stop to the program just before the school year was to begin. In Cleveland, Ohio, the constitutionality of a similar program was upheld by a state trial court, but is now under appeal. Meanwhile, in New York City, a brouhaha has erupted over the offer of the Catholic Archdiocese to take 1,000 of the worst-performing students in the public-school system and educate them in Catholic schools. The chancellor of New York’s Board of Education, Rudy Crew, declared that he would accept the offer only if the Archdiocese found private funds to pay for the program, and if the schools involved removed any signs, indications, or lessons marking them as religious.
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