Empty pews in a church.
Image Source: Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Supreme Court Rulings: The Separation of Church and State

One of the most contentious Supreme Court terms ends this summer as the justices clear their docket. They entered the month with more than thirty cases, leaving the biggest decisions last to round off the 2021-22 term. 

The Supreme Court rulings have rippling effects beyond the individual cases they preside on, including gun rights, religious liberty, immigration, the environment, and abortion access. Their decisions will undoubtedly reshape law and life in the United States. On June 24, the court overturned Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that made access to abortion a constitutional right. The move follows a trend of decisions aimed at stripping rights and reversing decades of progress.

Here is a breakdown of some of the key cases and their decisions pertaining to religion:


Carson v. Makin: Religious School Funding 

Decision: Maine’s state-funded tuition assistance program, benefitting rural residents not served by the public education system, may not exclude private religious schools. The two schools in question explicitly discriminate against LGBTQ+ children (MSN).

What this means: “As members of a community that has been subjected to generations of abuse based on religious condemnation of who we are, this is a very alarming time,” says Lambda Legal’s Jenny Pizer (MSN). 

Support: Contribute to the Maine People’s Alliance, Maine People’s Resource Center, California’s Queer LifeSpace’s Rural Youth Outreach Program, Oregon’s Rural Organizing Project, Country Queers, or a local organization organizing with the 20% of the LGBTQ+ people living in rural areas (Ms.).


Kennedy v. Bremerton School District: Student’s Religious Freedom Rights

Decision: In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court sided with a former high school football coach who was put on paid administrative leave for publicly praying after games while “on duty” (Supreme Court). The Supreme Court ruling is based on the free exercise and free speech clause of the First Amendment, which protects religious expression. The coach held solo and led postgame prayers with student-athletes for years, in violation of the Establishment Clause within the First Amendment, which prohibits the government from establishing a religion. 

What this means: In the context of public schools, the separation of church and state via the Establishment Clause is intended to protect students’ religious freedoms and prevent coercion (ACLU). The case is not about an individual’s right to “engage in private prayer at work” but whether a school authority figure can publicly impose those religious beliefs in a school setting, effectively “ministering religion to students.” The ruling ignores this, dismantling the separation of church and state in public schools and poses a threat to students’ religious freedoms. The decision is a win for religious liberty if your religion is the preferred faith. 

Support: Demand that government officials uphold the separation of church and state in public schools. Advocate for the school-aged children in your life who don’t ascribe to the preferred faith or any religion has the same religious liberties as those who do.

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