Should taxes fund religious schools?

February 03, 2020, 5:00 PM GMT+0

Americans believe in the separation of church and state.

The First Amendment of the Constitution states it, after all: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” That amendment has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as requiring the “separation of church and state.” and that separation has long-included not funding religious schools. But in January, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to that premise that could invalidate a Montana Constitutional Amendment forbidding public aid to religious schools.

But Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll — including Democrats, Republicans, and many Americans who say religion is very important in their own lives — support the separation of church and state.

But that is a principle. When it comes to the issue of school funding, Republicans and the most religious Americans take a somewhat different view. They support tax money being spent to pay tuition in private religious schools and to provide grants to improve education in those schools. While Catholic schools educate the largest share of religious school students, Catholics as a whole are not especially in favor of public spending on religious schools. About one-third (34%) support and 44 percent are opposed to taxpayer money funding grants for private schools). However, a majority (54%) of very religious Catholics support this.

Among the public overall, there is even less support for public spending on non-religious private schools.

All five of the Supreme Court justices nominated by Republican presidents were raised Catholic (though Neil Gorsuch currently attends an Episcopalian church. So is President Bill Clinton-appointee Sonia Sotomayor. The other three Supreme Court justices are Jewish.)

Among Catholics, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg have the highest favorable ratings, followed by Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, the two Trump appointees. Ginsberg and Kavanaugh receive the highest unfavorable ratings from Catholics. But for the most religious Catholics Thomas ranks at the top, with Ginsberg, Sotomayor and Elena Kagan receiving (at best) mixed reviews.

Justice Stephen Breyer is the least well-known justice overall and among Catholics. More than half can’t rate him.

Related: America wants John Bolton to testify

See the full toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov poll

Image: Getty