by Edd Doerr
Gregory Kane writes a column in the Washington Examiner, the freebie tabloid competing with the Moonie-founded Washington Times for the coveted status as the most reactionary rag in America. in his May 19 column he swatted at the Supreme Court's 1963 8-1 ruling against public school prayer and Bible reading in Abington School District v Schempp, asserting that "prayer and Bible reading in public schools hurt no one", that the ruling may have led to "a decline in academics and discipline in public schools since 1968", and that Potter Stewart, the lone Schempp dissenter, was right that the Court stretched the First Amendment too far.
Kane and others in his camp are just not able to grasp the following facts: 1. Schempp was preceded by the 1962 Supreme Court ruling in Engel v Vitale, a challenge to government sponsored public school prayer brought by parents of various religious persuasions; 2. That in 1962 only about half of the nation's public schools had prayer and/or Bible reading, nearly all of them in the east coast or southern states; 3. That far more people than just humanists were offended by the devotions; and 4. That there is no evidence that the absence of government-sponsor devotions negatively affects public education.
But Kane missed the big picture. Public school prayer and Bible reading were hallmarks of the Protestant hegemony in public schools that was offensive to our growing Catholic population from the mid-19th century until 1962, a hegemony lacking an effective legal remedy that pushed Catholic Church officials to create an extensive system of private religious schools. By 1962 Catholic private school enrollment had reached about 5.5 million students.
After Engel v Vitale things began to change. We elected our first Catholic President in 1960, a Catholic strongly dedicated to church-state separation who supported the Supreme Court ruling that ended the Protestant hegemony (except perhaps for parts of the old Confederacy with few Catholics -- or humanists). The Second Vatican Council of 1962-65 liberalized the church somewhat and elevated conscience over dogma. In 1968 the Vatican blanketly condemned contraception, against the advice of its own experts, and triggered a huge and ongoing revolt by Catholics against the malignant patriarchalism of the "Old Boys Club on the Tiber".
Voila! Catholic private school enrollment began to slip, from 5.5 million in 1965 to a little over two million today. Studies by Catholic universities for the pro-voucher Nixon Administration showed that the decline was due not to economic factors but to "changing parental preferences".
On the other hand, the end of the Protestant hegemony in the public schools, combined with the successes of the Civil Rights movement, led to the start of the growing fundamentalist private school movement, the spread of homeschooling, and growing evangelical/conservative support for school vouchers and tax credits. At the same time, Catholic movement away from sectarian private schools (about 80% of Catholic kids now attend public schools) has led to Catholic voter opposition to diversion of public funds to religious schools.