[internetworkers] Today's Supreme Court Ruling
biglee at haslups.com
Thu Feb 26 13:20:45 EST 2004
There is a rather good article about all this in today's Chicago
Tribune. Yahoo News will find it for you but if you try to get to it
through the Tribune web site they want you to register. I was going to
post a link but the Yahoo News URL is about three miles long and is
probably temporary and the Tribune has that registration challenge so I
will only suggest the story is worth looking for.
The young man who filed the suit is a student at a small-ish,
religiously-affiliated private college in Washington State. He is
pursuing a double major in Pastoral Ministries and Business Management
and Administration. He has a scholarship but was told that he could not
use it for the "Pastoral Ministries" degree. He sued, claiming the
Washington state law unconstitutionally discriminated based on
religion. The Federal Appeals Court in California agreed with him but
the Supreme Court reversed them in a narrowly-worded 7-2 ruling with
Justices Scalia and Thomas dissenting.
For my part, I tend to agree with Scalia, Thomas and the California
Appeals Court that if a benefit is generally offered but then withheld
based on some 'taint' of religion that is discriminatory. [The
application of the word 'taint' here is mine, as far as I know, I don't
attribute it to Scalia, Thomas or the California court.] On the other
hand, the decision is narrow and I can see merits in the arguments of
the other side as well.
Those who know me have observed that I tend to use food analogies in
arguments when meal time is approaching. I haven't had lunch yet and
so, possibly spurred on by low blood sugar, I can't help but wonder if
food stamps should be used to buy kosher bagels? On the one hand, of
course, the intent in providing the benefit (food stamps) is to provide
food to the less fortunate members of society and, unless you are on the
Atkins diet, it is hard to argue with the fact that most kosher bakeries
produce wholesome, tasty, sensibly priced food. On the other hand, to
be designated "kosher" a certain minimal amount of
religiously-prescribed mumbo is involved in the processing and one could
argue on "church and state" ground that this is troublesome when
combined with state funding.
While you are thinking about that one, consider also a priest who wants
to use his food stamps to buy "communion" bread for his church. He
argues that "spiritual food" considerations aside, the small white disks
are edible and, thus, constitute "food." Since he, and presumably his
congregation, meet the economic criteria for under-privilege, and since
he is buying food, he claims he should be able to use his food stamps.
Now, I would argue that the priest in my analogy has logic on his side
and would probably come down on his side. Still, there is more to life
than logic and I am at least sympathetic to the argument that those
little white wafers are more properly an intriguing form of edible
styrofoam and that they fail the "food" test. I would not be
particularly upset by a decision that forbids the use of food stamps to
buy communion bread as long as it was narrowly worded.
Which brings me to my, ever-so-slight, quibble with what Michael said,
most of which I agree with. He said...
> The only problem is 36 states have constitutions which bar the use of
> public money for religious instruction, and the voucher movement is
> being pushed primarily by religious groups who want the government to
> fund the religious instruction of their children. Were this ruling to
> go the other way, voucher supporters could then force voucher use for
> religious instruction in those states.
I would argue that, since students at "religious" schools tend to
outperform the national average on purely secular measures of education
such as reading, math, science and general knowledge, the schools in
question are providing "religious instruction" in pretty much the same
sense that a kosher bakery provides "Jewish food."
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