If you went to school in the U.S., you probably know what separation of Church and State is. For one thing, it is the first clause of the Bill of Rights and is as clear as clear can be: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." Middle Tennessee State University's First Amendment Encyclopedia noted that "The most famous use of the metaphor was by Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association. In it, Jefferson declared that when the American people adopted the establishment clause they built a 'wall of separation between the church and state.' Jefferson had earlier witnessed the turmoil of the American colonists as they struggled to combine governance with religious expression. Some colonies experimented with religious freedom while others strongly supported an established church. One of the decisive battlegrounds for disestablishment was Jefferson’s colony of Virginia, where the Anglican Church had long been the established church. Both Jefferson and fellow Virginian James Madison felt that state support for a particular religion or for any religion was improper. They argued that compelling citizens to support through taxation a faith they did not follow violated their natural right to religious liberty. The two were aided in their fight for disestablishment by the Baptists, Presbyterians, Quakers, and other 'dissenting' faiths of Anglican Virginia."
Today, the right wing members of the Supreme Court dealt what could be a catastrophic blow against separation of Church and State. Adam Liptak reported that Maine "may not exclude religious schools from a state tuition program. The decision, from a court that has grown exceptionally receptive to claims from religious people and groups in a variety of settings, was the latest in a series of rulings requiring the government to aid religious institutions on the same terms as other private organizations. The vote was 6 to 3, with the court’s three liberal justices in dissent."
Sonia Sotomayor was one of the dissenters of course. "This Court," she wrote, "his Court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the Framers fought to build. In just a few years, the Court has upended constitutional doctrine, shifting from a rule that permits States to decline to fund religious organizations to one that requires States in many circumstances to subsidize religious indoctrination with taxpayer dollars."
Ed Kilgore warned this afternoon that "While 'separation of church and state' is the time-honored manner of describing how to enforce the Establishment Clause, it is no longer subscribed to at all by many conservatives, as evidenced in January, when Justice Neil Gorsuch referred to 'the so-called separation of … church and state' in oral arguments in another case. Indeed, the conservative evangelicals who were once the most adamant defenders of the 'wall of separation' (it was on the behalf of Baptists that Thomas Jefferson first deployed that metaphor in 1802) now routinely dismiss it and interpret the Establishment Clause as simply prohibiting favoritism toward particular faith communities. All in all, Carson v. Makin may represent only a measured extension of a new and alarming approach to 'religious liberty' that Court conservatives embarked on in the Missouri and Montana cases. But its destination looks pretty radical from a longer perspective. It adds a bit of symbolic weight that the latest case arises from Maine, whose most distinguished statesman was the former U.S. House Speaker, senator, secretary of State, and 1884 Republican presidential nominee James G. Blaine. Blaine’s most enduring legacy was a proposed constitutional amendment explicitly banning the use of public funds for religious schools. It was never enacted federally, but 37 states added 'Blaine Amendments' to their own constitutions. One of them clearly fell in Espinoza. Others will soon be rooted out. And Blaine (along with Jefferson) is likely rolling in his grave."