Hosanna-Tabor and the Exaggerated Decline of Separationism
102 Pages Posted: 13 Mar 2013
Date Written: March 7, 2013
Scholars generally agree that the separation of church and state, as an approach to the Religion Clauses, has been in decline for decades. Yet the Supreme Court's recent decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran School v. EEOC is strongly and unanimously separationist, and none of scholars' explanations for separationism's decline adequately explain Hosanna-Tabor.
I argue that previous scholarship fails to explain Hosanna-Tabor because it has been insufficiently attentive to what "separationism" means and the ways in which separationist approaches to the Religion Clauses can differ from each other. It has therefore failed to appreciate the ways in which the Supreme Court's separationist principles have evolved rather than being repudiated, in particular the Court's increased willingness to see free private choice as an adequate buffer between church and state and the Court's increasingly narrow understanding of what counts as religion for separationist purposes.
These evolving aspects of the Court's approach to separationism help make sense of Hosanna-Tabor, in which free private choice was not an issue and the church's interests at stake were clearly part of the religious sphere. Further, they lead to a few predictions about the future of separationism and recommendations for pro-separationist scholars and activists.
Keywords: Law and Religion, Separation of Church and State, Hosanna-Tabor, Aid to Religious Institutions, Free Exercise Exemptions
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