Volume 30, Issue 1/2, 2018
The American Experiment: A Republic, If You Can Keep It
Gerald De Maio
The Republican Schoolmaster and the Problem of Religion in America
There is a view that the U.S. Supreme Court has acted as a “republican schoolmaster,” defining and educating the public on the permissible interaction between government and religion. The Court gave government, especially state governments, considerable latitude until incorporation of the religion clauses in the 1940s. In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the Court articulated a rigid conception of church and state which set precedents for decades. Those precedents restricted accommodation to religion by government, based on an incomplete reading of the Founding debates on religion. It has been gradually corrected since Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985). The implications of the separationist interpretation have had consequences that remain. The most obvious being forestalling experimentation with school choice for non-public school students and precluding the use of public facilities for religious groups until a series of corrective rulings beginning, for the most part, in the 1990s. The republican schoolmaster is now accountable for the intellectual lineage it uses.