Dear Christian friends,
With the 2019 legislative session now in the rear-view mirror, it's time to look forward to new issues on the horizon. Among those likely to surface in 2020 are several that were dealt with in the 2019 session. These include the following:
Renewed efforts to pass a "conversion therapy ban" (which would restrict the free speech rights of counselors and, potentially, pastors)
Renewed efforts to legalize physician-assisted suicide
New efforts to introduce a radical, comprehensive sex education curriculum into public schools.
All three of these are very concerning and will no doubt be the topic of future editions of “One Voice.”
What I'd like to focus your attention on in this issue, however, is something much more hopeful and positive. It's a development that comes in the form of a recent announcement by the Supreme Court that it will hear a case this fall dealing directly with this question: "May the government, through its K-12 education funding policies, continue to show disfavor toward those parents who choose a religious school for their children?"
This is a critical question in so far as the current policy has, for the past 150 years, presented a significant obstacle to the financial health and vitality of LCMS schools and placed severe limits on the ability of parents to direct the educational lives of their children as they see fit.
A brief history of recent developments regarding the monopoly on education
Beginning with the Zellman case in 2002, significant legal strides have been made to limit the monopolistic tendencies of the public education system, allowing parents a much wider range of school options from which to choose (charter schools, online schools, inter-district choice, etc.), at essentially no cost.
Yet despite this trend, there remained one notable exception to this expanding array of educational options—namely, religiously grounded schools. That is, in exercising their constitutional right to choose such a school for their children, parents were automatically disqualified from accessing the educational funding to which all other children are entitled. Thus, these parents were taxed for a benefit from which the State barred them from accessing—and did so solely because of the religious character of the school of their choice.
More specifically, states have regularly used a provision found in many state constitutions known as a Blaine Amendment to prevent parents whose children attend religious schools from receiving the same funding benefit from the State as parents who choose a non-religious school.
In 2016 with the Trinity Lutheran case, the Court was extremely critical of these Blaine Amendments and this treatment of this one class of parents but stopped just short of declaring them unconstitutional.
New case: Espinosa v. Montana Department of Revenue
Now a new case, Espinosa v. Montana Department of Revenue, has been accepted and will most likely give the Court the opportunity to rule decisively on this question.
According to Ross Izard, a writer at the Federalist (7/8/19), "It is hard to overstate how much such a ruling could affect. In addition to solidifying precedent about how government ought to handle people and organizations of faith, a ruling against Blaine Amendments could pave the road for thousands, perhaps millions, of students to access education opportunities outside the public system. . . . It would lay to rest a bitter debate that has divided Americans for generations."
Why we care as LCMS Lutherans
As people of faith, we in the LCMS have long appreciated the temporal and eternal benefits of an education deeply rooted in the study of God's Word, and thus we understand what a watershed event this may be. As such, I hope you will look for and seize opportunities to inform your members concerning the (sordid) history of these Amendments and encourage them to follow the development of the case as it is argued before the Court sometime this fall or winter. In so doing, we will be laying the ground work for the political effort needed to translate a court ruling into practical, enabling legislation.
What you can do
I'd urge you to follow this link to the full article by Ross Izard, which will give you the necessary background material to understand the critical nature of this case. Please also include this case and the Court in your corporate prayers in the months to come, that God might use this case and this Court to help remove a barrier that has for too long impeded the free course of the Gospel.
As you plan your fall programs, please consider inviting me or others on the Public Policy Committee to come and give presentations to your members. Presentations available include the following topics:
The Two Kingdoms: The Relationship of Church and State
Parental Choice in Education
The Legalization of Assisted Suicide
New and Encouraging Developments in Science Proving Darwinian Evolution to be False
Understanding the Impact of an Old Heresy (Gnosticism) on Our Church and Culture
Blessings to you as you exercise your citizenship for the sake of the Gospel and the welfare of your neighbor.
Rev. Fred Hinz
Rev. Fredric Hinz
LCMS Public Policy Advocate
Minnesota South and North Districts
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod