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Religious Liberty in the Educational System of the United States

From the 1980s to the Present


Iwona Zamkowska

Nearly a third of religious liberty cases decided by the U.S. Supreme Court addressed religion and education. Numbers that high, the problem definitely deserves consideration of international public. What were the main forces that shaped religious liberty in public education in one of its most formative periods? Did the introduction of religious liberty legal framework in public schools advance religious liberty of students as independent autonomous actors? The author discusses this cultural problem from a broad and complex perspective: both internationally recognized theory of a child’s religious freedom rights and the American models of religious liberty. To cover a wide spectrum of viewpoints, she analyses a broad selection of documents, from state and NGO publications to media coverage.

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Chapter 2 Nonlegal Political Factors Shaping Religious Liberty in Education from the 1980s Onwards


Besides the legal factors discussed in the previous chapter, authors identify other, i.e., nonlegal agents that were instrumental in shaping and inflaming the church-state debate at the discussed period. Emma Long, for instance, identifies four such factors:

1. International political trends, particularly the Cold War, which had an impact on the perception of the place of religion in American life;

2. Economic circumstances that influenced attitudes to the investment of public funds in education;

3. The changing attitudes to Catholics and Catholic schools following the provisions of the Second Vatican Council and an increase in the numbers of religious schools run by Jews, Muslims, and conservative Christians that shaped the attitudes to school aid programs; and

4. The dominant political views of the 1980s, and the activity of the Religious Right in particular.281

Since the primary focus of the book is national politics rather than international influences as well as public education, rather than nonstate schools, the discussion of this chapter revolves around the last-mentioned item. As Long contends, it is the political developments of the late 20th century that “provide an important factor in understanding both school prayer debates and the move for equal access legislation in that decade.”282

The initial part of the chapter will thus be devoted to the rise, activities, and impact of the Religious Right. Since the formation of this conservative political fraction was a direct result of the cultural...

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