Maine Voices: Supreme Court Ends Maine’s Anti-Catholic School Policy

Our illusory idea that we are a city on a hill, as the settlers dreamed of, has for centuries erased the Native American genocide, the dehumanization of African slaves, the abuses against Asians, the establishment’s anti-Semitism, the exploitation Hispanicism and complicity in Palestinian racist dispossession and repression. Our delusions translate inordinate aggression into bliss.

Add the bigotry visited by the wave of Irish immigrants in the 19th century, starting with the refusal of employment: no Irish need apply. Reparations for this fanaticism surfaced modestly last month with the Carson v. Makin of the Supreme Court which approves the use of school tax funds in a church-run school for children without public schooling.

As the genocide of the natives was justified by racism, the long and persistent denial of school tax funds for Catholic parochial education was justified by the anti-Catholicism of the Know-Nothing era. Before Catholics sought tax funds for parochial schools, settlers recognized that the essential and proper concern of the state with K-12 education was the education of all children in reading, in math, literature, science, history, civics, and possibly art and music. School taxes went to any legitimate school that served the community. It was often sponsored by the church.

But the forces of anti-Catholicism refused to include parochial schools, whose parents paid school taxes, even later, when the schools were accredited by official bodies.

The vector of this sectarianism was the collapse of the network of ecclesiastical and public schools into “public” schools, essentially interdenominational Christians, which over time reduced the religious dimension, in particular following Jewish objections. I attended one such public school in Tennessee where the weekly assembly began with the local Methodist or Baptist pastor reading the King James scriptures and offering religious or moral counsel.

The only historical exceptions I know of were the post-war GIBill, which did not dare deny veterans access to Notre Dame or Boston College and the small all-Catholic public school in Fancy Farms, Kentucky , run by nuns until a Protestant railroad section – her family moved to town.

The extension of K-12 education to children elsewhere in the first world suffered no such abuse. Schools then and now have welcomed Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and probably now Islamic religious instruction. We are the outlier, except for the current ruling, in the Supreme Court’s fidelity to the “separation wall” that is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. Unfortunately, several of my favorite judges, in a predominantly Catholic court, having drunk that raucous Kool Aid, were in the minority on Carson.

This injustice met a challenge when President John F. Kennedy offered federal aid to public schools only. Citizens for Educational Freedom, mostly Catholic but also Reformed Christians and Orthodox Jews calling for “a fair share for every child”, soon had 75,000 members. My op ed column length in the New York Times, his first belated acknowledgment of opposition to JFK’s proposal placed me on the CEF Board of Directors, which included Rep. Hugh Carey, later Governor of New York (who brought Robert F. Kennedy to the cause when he ran for the US Senate in 1966). When President Kennedy’s 1962 criticism of the proposal nearly defeated three staunch Democratic congressmen, he abandoned his proposal.

Funded by parental tuition, the generosity of parishioners, and staffed with religious staff, priests, and brethren, parochial schools had nonetheless flourished (Philadelphia in the 1950s had as many parochial students as school students). public!) But after the Second Vatican Council, religions and secular replacements increased tuition and reduced enrollment. In the 1960s, Portland, Westbrook, and South Portland had seven Catholic elementary schools and three high schools; one of each survives today.

The racial integration conflict had also drawn attention elsewhere. White Protestant church schools proliferated in the South. Maine in 1970 had one CEF member, House Majority Leader Louis Jalbert. Reverend Sun Yung Moon’s supporters – the ‘Moonies’ – held a conference in Boston at which Senator Eugene McCarthy spoke and Ronald Reagan overthrew the Republican opposition, promising a lot at a DC rally – as did his Education Secretary William Bennett – but nothing delivered. A conference on religion, state, and education in Portland and Bangor in the late 1970s produced no renewed interest in change. Charter schools sought to serve those dissatisfied with public schools. And recently, Trump’s education wrecking ball, Betsy DeVos, waged war on public schools — to little effect.

By taking in two children from Maine, the court’s ‘Carson’ majority reassured everyone that public funding for education here continues to be based on anti-Catholicism, not whoever teaches well reading, writing and arithmetic.

— Special for the Press Herald


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