Our delusory notion that we are a city on a hill, as settlers dreamed, has for centuries blotted out Native American genocide, African slaves’ dehumanization, abuses of Asians, establishment anti-semitism, Hispanic exploitation and complicity in racist Palestinian dispossession and repression. Our delusions translate overweening aggressions into blessedness.

Add the bigotry visited on the 19th century wave of Irish immigrants, beginning with job denial: No Irish need apply. Reparations for that bigotry surfaced modestly last month with the Supreme Court’s Carson v. Makin decision which approves the use of education tax funds in a church-run school for children without a public one.

As Natives’ genocide was justified by racism, the long persisting denial of education tax funds for Catholic parochial education has been justified by Know-Nothing era anti-Catholicism. Before Catholics sought tax funds for parochial schools, colonials recognized that the state’s proper, essential concern regarding K-12 education to be the education of all children in reading writing, mathematics, literature, science, history, civics and perhaps art and music. Education taxes went to whatever legitimate schooling so served the community. It was often church-sponsored.

But the forces of anti-Catholicism refused to include parochial schools, whose students’ parents paid education taxes, even later, when the schools were accredited by official bodies.

The vehicle for this bigotry was collapsing the network of church-related and state schools into “public,” essentially interdenominational Christian, schools that in time reduced the religious dimension, notably following Jewish objections. I attended such a public school in Tennessee where weekly assembly began with the local Methodist or Baptist minister reading King James Scripture and offering religious or moral counsel.

The only historic exceptions I know of have been the postwar G.I.Bill, which did not dare deny war veterans access to Notre Dame or Boston College and the little all-Catholic public school in Fancy Farms, Kentucky, run by nuns until a Protestant railroad section-hand family moved into town.


The extension of K-12 education to children elsewhere in the First World suffered no such abuse. Then and now, schools have accommodated Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and likely now Islamic religious instruction. We are the outlier, save for the current decision, in Supreme Court’s fealty to the “wall of separation” that is found nowhere in the Constitution. Regrettably, several of my favorite justices, on a largely Catholic court, having drunk that hoary Kool Aid, constituted the minority on Carson.

That injustice met a challenge when President John F. Kennedy proposed federal aid to state schools only. Citizens for Educational Freedom, largely Catholic but also Christian Reformed and Orthodox Jews calling for “a fair share for every child,” soon had 75,000 members. My column-length op ed in the New York Times, its belated, first recognition of opposition to JFK’s proposal, put me on the CEF board, which included Rep. Hugh Carey, later New York governor (who brought Robert F. Kennedy to the cause when he ran for the U.S. Senate in 1966). When 1962 criticism of President Kennedy’s proposal almost defeated three safe Democratic congressmen, he abandoned his proposal.

Funded by parents’ tuition, parishioners’ generosity and with religious nuns, priests and brothers staffing, parochial schools had nonetheless flourished (Philadelphia in the ’50s had as many parochial as public school students!) But after the Second Vatican Council, disappearing religious and lay replacements increased tuition and shrank enrollments. In the ’60s, Portland, Westbrook and South Portland had seven Catholic grade schools and three high schools; one of each survives today.

The racial integration conflict had also turned attention elsewhere. White Protestant church schools proliferated in the South. Maine in 1970 had one CEF member, House Majority Leader Louis Jalbert. The followers of the Rev. Sun Yung Moon – the “Moonies” – held a Boston conference at which Sen. Eugene McCarthy spoke and Ronald Reagan reversed Republican opposition, promising much at a D.C. gathering– as his Secretary of Education William Bennett did – but delivered nothing. A conference on religion, state and education in Portland and Bangor in the late ’70s occasioned no revived interest in change. Charter schools sought to serve those dissatisfied with the state schools. And recently Trump’s education wrecking ball, Betsy DeVos, warred on state schools – to little effect.

By accommodating two Maine children, the court’s “Carson” majority reassured all that government education funding here continues to be based on anti-Catholicism, not whoever teaches reading, writing and arithmetic well.

— Special to the Press Herald

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