Court Ruling a "Victory"
23 June 1997 1997
obert A. Destro, professor of law at The Catholic University of America, calls the Supreme Court decision announced June 23 in Agostini v. Felton "an important victory for religious liberty."
"It overrules a 1985 case, Aguilar v. Felton, in which the Court held that Title I special education teachers could not provide services to eligible children on the premises of their religiously-affiliated schools," Destro said.
In Agostini, Destro said, the Court reconsidered three basic assumptions, and rejected all of them:
- Any public employee who works on the premises of a religious school is presumed to inculcate religion in her work;
- The presence of public employees on private school premises creates a symbolic union between church and state; and
- Any and all public aid that directly aids the educational function of religious schools impermissibly finances religious indoctrination, even if the aid reaches such schools as consequence of private decisionmaking.
"These are critically important assumptions," said Destro, "and rejecting them moves us a considerable distance toward true religious liberty and tolerance in this country."
"The first assumption -- that teachers cannot be trusted to follow the rules -- is simply insulting, and the Court specifically rejected it. Religiously affiliated schools are not frauds on the public -- though many so-called "strict separationists" assume they are."
"The second assumption -- the presence of public employees on private school premises creates a symbolic union between church and state -- is patent nonsense, and discriminatory as well. People see what they want to see, and the Court has never taken into account the way parents of children enrolled in nonpublic schools view the matter (i.e. as discrimination)."
"The third assumption -- that any and all public aid that directly aids the educational function of religious schools impermissibly finances religious indoctrination, even if the aid reaches such schools as a consequence of private decisionmaking -- is also nonsense. This is -- and always has been - a debate over the control of the content of education. Parents should be in control. The court affirms that principle."
Destro can be reach at 202-319-5202 (W) or at 703-534-9079 (H).
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