Chipping away at the church-state wall: what next, Mr. President?

Author:Thomas, Helen

Ever since he took office, President George W. Bush has been promoting an agenda that chips away at the constitutional wall between church and state. He seems to be succeeding now that the U.S. Supreme Court has permitted the use of government money to support private schools, most of them religious.

What a legacy for our republic after two centuries of keeping separate, for the most part, two pillars of our society--government and religion. I believe that by drawing a line between the two, our society has maintained individual freedom.

The court's ruling in June allowing parents to use taxpayer-funded vouchers to send their children to religious schools is a historic setback.

Bush has also proposed the use of government funds to support faith-based charities. A bill to accomplish that goal has been somewhat watered down from what he originally wanted. But the House has passed it and a similar version has been approved by the Senate Finance Committee.

The House measure would permit religious groups to compete with other private organizations for federal contracts to perform certain social services so long as recipients don't have to take part in religious activities. My question is why do we need religious institutions to do these things?

Bush, in his determination to inject religion into our secular lives, has also established, for the first time in history, a religious office in the White House. What next, Mr. President?

Of course, he is happy that the Supreme Court, in its 5-to-4 decision, agrees with him. But in his jubilation, he got carried away and compared that ruling with the high court's famous--and unanimous--school desegregation decision in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

As a letter to the editor of The New York Times said this week, that "is like comparing Plessy v. Ferguson (which in 1896 upheld separate-but-equal laws) to the passage of the 14th Amendment," which after the Civil War gave former slaves citizenship rights.

The letter writer, Yale history professor Glenda Gilmore, said the court's voucher decision "eviscerates Brown by channeling public money to private schools, just as Plessy eviscerated the 14th Amendment by legalizing segregation."

The Brown decision marked one of the great defining moments in our society. It transformed us and rejected the notion that we are two nations, white and black. It opened doors for African Americans who had long been deprived of their basic human rights because of...

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