As you all know, I am way into church-state separation. However, I can’t decide where I stand on the case currently before the Supreme Court, Locke v. Davey. (Brief summary: The constitution of Washington state forbids spending of public money on religious education. Joshua Davey receives a university scholarship from the state, but it is rescinded after he declares a theology major. He sues, claiming religious discrimination.)
Personally, I believe the state should not give scholarships to theology students. But I believe this because I think theology is a big steaming pile of crap, and it would therefore be a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars. And so if the state were to take my position on theology scholarships, it would no longer be neutral with respect to religion. I also believe that this neutrality is the most fair position of the state, and this belief overrules my belief about the crapitude of theology. I’m driven to the conclusion that the state should grant scholarships based on merit and need and regardless of the subject matter, whether it is physics or theology or underwater basket-weaving (as long as the course of study is at an accredited institution).
Well, what about vouchers then? Is it the same principle? I suppose it is: as long as a school is providing a decent education, the state should be blind to whether it’s a religious institution. (However, I would consider the fact of evolution part of a decent education. This is not in the same category as my opinion on theology; evolution is one of the best-confirmed theories in science.) I’m forced to conclude, as well, that voucher programs don’t violate church-state separation, however uncomfortable I may be with my taxes funding religion classes. (Vouchers may be constitutional, but I still think they’re awful policy for other reasons, like, oh, scalability.)
Ok, what about religious charities? (Usually called “faith-based”, but that term’s a bit cumbersome.) Apply the same principle: the state should give money to whoever wants to feed soup to the homeless, blind to the religious affiliation or lack thereof. Each successive application of this principle is ratcheting up my discomfort level. Now we want to give government funds to guys who are going to tell the poor and destitute to accept Jesus and everything will be ok? And you know he’s just going to bring them into the demon dimension as slave labor. No, wait, that was a Buffy episode.
So I approve of this one guy getting his theology scholarship and suddenly I’m giving Bush the go-ahead to funnel federal money to Franklin Graham’s proselytizing. (Not that he needed my, or anyone else’s, go-ahead – can it be a slippery-slope argument if we’re already at the bottom of the slope?) Did I go wrong somewhere?
Well, maybe the state does have a right to decide what is a useful expenditure of its money, and that, say, a theology scholarship isn’t in the public interest, or a religious school can’t be more efficient than a public school due to the expenses of religion classes and incense and stained-glass windows. No, that’s obviously bad, because when Roy Moore is elected governor of Alabama he’ll decide not to grant scholarships to biology students, because evolution is a big steaming pile of crap, and it would be a colossal waste of taxpayer dollars to fund the teaching of it. Or is that so bad? Maybe the state should have this discretion, and if the people elect ignorant morons who use it in stupid ways it’s their own damn fault. Given the frequency with which ignorant morons are elected, this is not such a comforting thought.
I’ve successfully tied my brain into knots with this issue. Any insights are welcome.