From a constitutional standpoint, the most interesting thing was the natural tension which sometimes occurs between free exercise and non-establishment. Socio-emotionally, however, the real hand grenade was the question of individual parental rights (with a side of religious freedom) vs. the presumed long-term good of the child and of society as a whole. Civilization is premised on the idea that we’ll each forego a degree of personal autonomy in order to benefit from participation in society. Schools are a major part of that arrangement.
While I’m still skeptical about the degree to which short stories in a middle school primer truly pushed little people into worshipping horse gods, this second list has the significant benefit of not sounding completely insane. Maybe it WAS possible that the touchy-feely, one-gluten-free-world mojo so popular with academic types in the late 1970s had infiltrated the editorial choices of those most in a position to influence tiny brains.
At what point have we raced well past “everyone is different” and ended up lost somewhere between “meat is murder” and “vote Bernie or we all perish”?
Most “wall of separation” cases related to public education involve questions of “establishment.” When Ms. Magdalene puts up Christmas decorations in her classroom, that violates the Establishment Clause. Inviting local clergy to open graduation ceremonies with a brief prayer is a no-no because it’s “establishment.” Requiring equal time for Creationism when it’s time for the chapter on Evolution? You guessed it – that’s “establishment” as well.
From time to time, however, a case will work its way through the system asserting the opposite. In these “free exercise” cases, the claim is that the state – in this case, manifested as the public school system – has hindered personal expressions of religious belief or behavior without sufficient cause. The “sufficient cause” part is important because the state has the right to place some limits on how faith is manifested when there’s a good reason. (Human sacrifice, for example, is a “no-no” even if your gods demand placation.) Government entities must demonstrate that they have a good reason for their restrictions, however. And, if there are less-restrictive ways to accomplish those goals, they have to try those first.
I've written and published a book of important Supreme Court cases. Although I ended up leaving "ancillaries" out of the book, I have questions written over each of the major cases and several graphic organizers which someone other than myself might find useful. So here's the deal - if you buy the book (which, let's face it, you desperately want to do anyway) and want the supplemental materials, I'm posting them here to download and do with as you see fit.
“School choice” wouldn’t emerge onto the national scene until after Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and the various forays into moral corruption and social decay wouldn’t become staples of the nation’s highest court until a decade after that. The rest of the Lochner Era was largely about how freedom meant letting corporations do whatever they wanted to workers because those being exploited had just as much theoretical control over the outcome as their gilded overlords did. (They didn’t put it in those exact terms.) Between 1897 – 1937, the Supreme Court struck down nearly 200 different statues, most as violations of “freedom of contract” or other violation of “economic substantive due process.”
The Lochner Era (1897 – 1937), however, is named for a case representing a judicial philosophy which dominated the nation’s highest court for nearly forty years. For over a generation, the Court pushed back against the reform efforts of the Progressive Era and gave FDR fits by overturning many of his best efforts to regulate industry during the Great Depression. They laid the foundation for the modern “school choice” movement by uncovering new rights related to parenting and families. In the process, they brought to life an understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment that would end up securing the rights of American citizens to contraception, gay sex, and abortions.
The dilemma of any effort to compile “must know” Supreme Court cases is deciding where to draw the line. If you narrow it to a list of 12, there are at least 3 or 4 others that really MUST be added in the name of consistency. If you expand the list to, say... 24, you're sacrificing another half-dozen that should simply NOT be neglected if you're to retain ANY credibility.
Is It Constitutional Now? How About Now? Or Now?
Three Big Things:
1. After it became clear that state-sponsored prayer was no longer a realistic option in public education, states began experimenting with the idea of a “moment of silence” during which students could pray (although no one had ever suggested that they couldn’t).
The Supreme Court’s decision in Stone v. Graham was announced on November 17th, 1980. Less than two weeks earlier, Ronald Reagan had been elected President of the United States, initiating what would later be called the “Reagan Revolution” – a resurgence of conservative values and policies anchored in an idealized past. The events leading to Stone began years earlier, but its outcome sent a message to the faithful in the 1980s similar to that of Engel v. Vitale and Abington v. Schempp two decades before: American’s fundamental values (meaning public promotion of Christianity) were under attack by intellectual elitists… aka “liberals.” And some of them wore robes.
Wisconsin law required that kids be in school SOMEWHERE – public or private was up to the parents – until they were at least 16. Yoder, Miller, and Yutzy were prosecuted for violating state law and the case went to trial with Jonas Yoder acting on behalf of the group. While he was no doubt a capable individual, the Amish and Conservative Mennonites aren’t big on using the court system to resolve their difficulties. They do not, by and large, sue people for damages or seek legal recourse for minor infractions. An “Amish Lawyer” would be about as common as a “Shiite Stripper” or a “Hindu Butcher.”