Thursday, April 15, 2021

SC: Lawsuit Looks For Public Dollar Pay Day For Catholic Schools

In South Carolina, a lawsuit filed this week seeks to obliterate the wall between church and state.

Like most such lawsuits, the federal lawsuit has been a advocacy group that specializes in such things-- you may remember the Liberty Justice Center as the folks who won the Janus case, which either was an attack on unions wrapped in the First Amendment. 

As with most such cases, the advocacy group needed to find themselves some plaintiffs to attach the case to. What's striking this time is that the plaintiffs are not some group of regular citizens-- the lawsuit-- Bishop of Charleston v. Adams  has been filed on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, plus a group of independent colleges.

The federal suit follows the South Carolina Supreme Court's rejection of Governor Henry McMaster's attempt to use CARES pandemic relief funds for private schools.

That court found the desire to hand public funds to private schools unconstitutional. So the solution is obvious--sue to have the state's constitution rewritten.

The case has a target perfect for PR purposes--the Blaine Amendment. In 1875, President Grant proposed, and Congressman James G. Blaine officially launched, a move to add a constitutional amendment that public tax dollars could not be used to fund private, sectarian schools. It failed on the national level, but many states passed their own state-level version. 

The Blaine Amendment is a hard thing to defend--most historians see it as anti-Catholic, so that many fans of getting public funding into private school hands, from Betsy DeVos to supporters of this new lawsuit, skip past any discussion of the wall between church and state and go straight to decrying this Blaine-related funding wall as bigotry that must be swept aside.

Guglielmone said at a Wednesday press conference that the legal challenge is not only about expunging "the anti-Catholic sentiment" that still haunts the state, but to create a "more inclusive, uplifting future" for parents and children who seek out private education.

Attorney Daniel Suhr announced the lawsuit in a private Catholic school, making sure to point out that the supporter of the Blaine Amendment was a bigot. "I ask," he said in the school gym." for the children in this gym and those they represent, are they any less deserving of our help than any other child in South Carolina." 

It's a compelling question. It would be more compelling if Catholic private schools were not themselves in the business of deciding which students are deserving of their help. No matter how much money they take from from the taxpayers, they will still reserve the right to reject students for whatever reasons they choose, and enforce whatever requirements for religious observance they choose. "Well, Catholic schools are not for everyone," you may say, which is the point, particularly if we are going to require everyone to pay for them.

It's also worth noting that unlike, say, a private business-operated school, Catholic schools do not close because of some natural process, but because the Catholic diocese chooses to close them, usually because the diocese does not want to spend too much on keeping a low-enrollment school open (though the church is not exactly hurting for money). These are not freestanding independent schools; when taxpayers send their dollars to support a Catholic school, those dollars are also not-very-indirectly supporting the Catholic church, a religious "business" that took in a small ton of PPP money.

At any rate, there are zero surprises in this lawsuit. The Catholic church indicated quickly that it intended to capitalize on the Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, a case for which the US Conference of Catholic Bishops wrote an amicus brief. They threw weight behind the Trump administration and received a promise of help on the whole voucher thing, but with Espinoza in place, they may not need that help. 

I would not bet against the Catholic church on this one. The erosion of the church-state wall is well under way, the conservative judges are in place all over the country, and it's game on for religious schools looking to score a pile of public taxpayer money. 

Meanwhile, in what I suppose qualifies as irony, the newest pile of relief money, Joe Biden's American Rescue Plan, includes a whopping $2.75 billion earmarked for private schools. So Biden has come through for these folks in ways that Trump and DeVos only promised. 

In the meantime, keep an eye on South Carolina to see how the wall between church and state will be further pulverized. 

No comments:

Post a Comment