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Betsy DeVos Watch: Religion, Education and Advancing God’s Kingdom

July 7, 2017

Late last month, the US Supreme Court decided on the case of Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer. 

The ruling was in support of Trinity Lutheran Church, which basically means that the State of Missouri must give taxpayer funding to a house of worship.

On the same day as this ruling, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, released the following brief statement

“This decision marks a great day for the Constitution and sends a clear message that religious discrimination in any form cannot be tolerated in a society that values the First Amendment. We should all celebrate the fact that programs designed to help students will no longer be discriminated against by the government based solely on religious affiliation.”

So why would the Secretary of Education weigh in on a decision from the US Supreme court, particularly since it is a separation of church and state matter?

The answer, for those who are familiar with Betsy DeVos’ background, has to do with the religious ideology that the DeVos and Prince families embrace and have attempted to impose on the rest of society for several decades now.

The Family Research Council, which the DeVos family has funded for several decades, released a statement in support of the courts’ decision, which reads in part: 

“At the heart of the First Amendment is the idea that Americans should be able to not just hold beliefs but follow those beliefs as they live their lives. The Free Exercise of religion, explicitly protected by the First Amendment, protects varied and robust religious expression in the public square. Certainly the Framers never meant to exclude churches from public life in the way the state of Missouri and lower courts have here.”

The Cato Institute, which has a long history of pushing for privatization of public education and an advocate for religious education, stated

“Today’s Trinity Lutheran ruling strikes a blow against patently unequal treatment of religious Americans under state laws, an inequality felt no more acutely than in education. But it does not yet get us to where we need to be.

The huge impact of today’s ruling is that it says religious institutions cannot be barred from participating in government programs simply because they are religious. The Trinity Lutheran Church could not be ruled ineligible to participate in a grant program to improve playgrounds simply because it is a religious entity. This should have been a simple decision: It is clearly unequal treatment of religious Americans under the law to say “the reason you are ineligible for this benefit for which anyone else is eligible is that you are religious.”

Both of these statements are reflective of the ideological framework within which Betsy DeVos views the world. For a more detailed analysis of the religious views that DeVos embraces so fervently, see Janet Reitman’s article in Rolling Stone, which was published earlier this year. 

Americans United for Separation of Church and State had a much different take on the courts’ decision, saying:

“Taxpayer-funded religion is bad for churches, communities and citizens. Americans United will continue to fight to buttress the church-state wall because that’s the only thing that can ensure true religious freedom for everyone. This ruling threatens to open the door to more taxpayer support for religion, which is at odds with our history, traditions and common sense.” 

The ACLU also came out against the court ruling, with the following statement

“Abandoning a longstanding constitutional protection for the separation of church and state, the Supreme Court ruled earlier this week that a church must be allowed to participate in a state program that provides direct taxpayer grants to improve school playground surfaces. The decision was very troubling. As we argued in our friend-of-the-court brief in the case, Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, the government should not be funneling public funds directly to churches or other houses of worship, for any reason. Period.”

The statement from Betsy DeVos, in support of the US Supreme Court ruling that says the State of Missouri must use public money to fund a religious school, should not surprise us, but it should make us all worry about the commitment she has to furthering “God’s Kingdom.” This has been the commitment of both the DeVos and Prince families for decades, but now that Betsy is the Secretary of Education, she has an even greater platform in which to impose religious beliefs on the rest of US society. The question is, will we allow this to happen or fight against it?

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