Religious freedom in politics upheld

A New York federal court has rejected a truly odious separation-of-church-and-state lawsuit. In Incantalupo v. Lawrence Free School District, the plaintiffs sought to bar a school board from enacting a policy (tax cuts) that were generally favored by Orthodox Jews and generally opposed by others. They alleged that cutting taxes would give Orthodox Jews more money to spend on private religious schooling, and therefore the tax cuts violate the separation of church and state.

The court rightly rejected this appalling argument:

Indeed, by objecting to lower taxes because they might help some people afford yeshiva education, Plaintiffs’ Complaint, on its clear face, seeks to create , not cure, a First Amendment Equal Protection violations. Plaintiffs do not claim, nor could they, that supporting lower taxes and less school spending by itself violates the First or Fourteenth Amendment. Thus, under Plaintiffs’ reasoning, no claim would lie against political conservatives who ideologically disfavor spending on public schools, or retirees who have no children in the public school system and want lower taxes to boost their discretionary income.

Rather, Plaintiffs believe that the School Board’s actions are problematic entirely because the School Board members are Orthodox Jews who are motivated, in part, to help other Orthodox Jews pay yeshiva tuition by lowering their tax burden. In short, Plaintiffs seek to deny Orthodox Jews political rights possessed by every other group in the United States: the right to mobilize in support of religiously neutral government policies, and then have those policies enacted through normal democratic processes.

I’m glad to see that the court made the right decision in this case, but it’s not the only such case in the pipeline, or even the worst. In this case the plaintiffs were just a bunch of bigoted yahoos, but there’s a similar case filed by the ACLU against the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. In that case, the ACLU seemed to argue that an organization receiving government money could not refuse to spend that money on abortion, if its refusal would be for religious reasons.

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