separation of church and state

Last week, to little notice or fanfare, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fired a shot across the bow of the Constitution. Speaking to the Alfred E. Smith Foundation, which raises money for Catholic causes, DeVos spoke out passionately against the separation of church and state.

The target of her ire was the “Blaine Amendments” on the books in many states that prevent public money from being given to religious causes, chiefly parochial education. States from California to Texas prohibit using taxpayer money to favor a particular religion, and they’re grounded in a national sentiment.

While far from absolutely secure, the constitutional articulation of the separation of church and state, the Establishment Clause, is one of the rare instances where taxpayers can sue over how that money is spent.

DeVos, however, railed against the Blaine Amendments: “These amendments should be assigned to the ash heap of history and¬†this ‘last acceptable prejudice‘ should be stamped out once and for all.”

And she’s pretty sure that the separation between church and state is doomed. In her remarks, Secretary DeVos cited the 2017 Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, which supported taxpayer spending on church-sponsored projects. The court’s reasoning was that the church was being denied an otherwise available public benefit, which violated the other side of the Establishment Clause’s coin, the Free Exercise Clause.

And that’s central to DeVos’ overall objective: American theocracy.

By using school vouchers to broaden the choices to include private as well as public schools, the taxpayer money used in education gets subjected to the Trinity Lutheran decision. Suddenly, the fight to “put God back in schools” becomes less a fight against the First Amendment and more a fight for each individual school district.

And in the Trump Administration, DeVos’ strategy has a powerful ally. The President has declared public schools “failing” (which totally worked for the “failing” New York Times) and works with DeVos to undermine public education. The duo slashed the public education budget in favor of promoting privatization of schools, and the consigning of secular education to DeVos’ ash heap.

These remarks to the Smith Foundation were coupled with action, who earlier this month pushed a sweeping deregulation effort aimed at limiting the role to which education policy is made a secular practice, turning critical attention to provisions that “unnecessarily restrict participation by religious entities.”

Famously, at a 2001 event called The Gathering, DeVos said she wasn’t for destroying public education, but instead for advancing Christianity.

“Our desire is to … confront the culture in which we all live today in ways¬†which will continue to help advance God’s kingdom,” DeVos said.

As Secretary of Education, she’s moving at full steam toward making America God’s kingdom, separation of church and state be damned.


Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.


  1. Public schools are failing according to Trump did he ever attend a public school? The accurate statement should be some public schools are failing. Why is that because of the defunding to those districts high concentrations of poor people and buildings that are falling apart. Well these are failing for simple reasons decay of infrastructure and low socioeconomic status what do you expect. However we have lots of schools across our nation doing extremely well. We need to make all public schools great and we can with good direction and proper funding. Betsy DeVos, her argument is all about her religion and making lots of profit off education. She is richer because of charters and private education materials. She is an embarrassment to Michigan and to our nation. She is incompetent and has never attended a public school that should tell you something. She is at best a leader of greed and proud of it. J. Katakowski

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