Is the Supreme Court ready to alter the balance of the First Amendment’s religion clauses?

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

—The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Late this summer, the Adventist Review sent shock waves through the Seventh-day Adventist community by publishing an editorial that advocated a “tax deduction or rebate” for parents who send their children to religious schools. In the editorial, entitled “Getting a Piece of Our Own Pie,” writer Roy Adams described receiving in the mail on the same day his annual county school tax assessment and the bill for his children’s tuition at the Adventist academy. “Does it make any sense at all to pay large dollars to send my neighbors’ kids to school and then turn around and pay yet again to send my own children to church school, with no corresponding assistance from society at large?” he asked.

Adams’s proposal was not new in the religious world. But it was startling coming out of the Adventist community, which has traditionally favored a strict separation between church and state and opposed any type of government benefits for religion. An Adventist spokesman said the editorial does not signal wholesale change on the part of the denomination, but he conceded it is indicative of growing internal tensions about the role of government and religious education.

Those favoring a solid wall of separation between church and state say the Adventist incident illustrates a deepening shift among religious groups—and in the Supreme Court—away from a separationist point of view and toward a view that allows more ...

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