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SCOTUS: Eroding the separation of church and state

The conservative Right has spent years trying to destroy our public education system. With this decision, they now have a clear pathway

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Graphic via Natchitoches Parish School Board, Natchitoches, LA

By Brynn Tannehill | FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – The Supreme Court’s outrageous oral arguments over abortion in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the court’s refusal to halt Texas’s abortion bounty law dominated the news recently.

But that wasn’t their only controversial, disastrous ruling that week: In a 6-3 decision for Carson v. Makin, which asked the court whether the government could require the state of Maine to subsidize religious education, SCOTUS ruled that laws prohibiting the use of public funds for religious education were a form of religious discrimination.

This represents a catastrophe for the separation of church and state—and a boon for conservatives looking to destroy public education and flood churches with government money.

Conservatives in the U.S. have long despised public education. During the 1980s, President Reagan appointed Terrell Bell as Secretary of Education to work himself out of a job by shrinking, or abolishing, the department, and shuffling children into church-run classrooms. Under Trump, Betsy DeVos followed this tradition of wanting to defund public schools, and instead have the government provide vouchers for children to go to parochial schools.

The GOP has also been the beneficiary of homeschooling producing “foot soldiers for God,” who almost invariably vote Republican. In return, the GOP has worked hand in hand with parochial schools to ensure that they do not need to meet state educational standards, and that homeschooling is almost entirely deregulated and oversight nonexistent. Florida leads the way, expanding school vouchers for private schools and deliberately underfunding public ones.

With religious schools, there’s very little academic oversight, and even less financial. Two-thirds of private schools are religious, meaning that they are run through a church. The church is theoretically responsible for providing financial accountability, but in reality the IRS long ago stopped auditing churches except in extreme circumstances.

Florida is pouring another $200 million into school vouchers on top of the billion they already spend, with scant evidence to suggest that it is working.

In other words, the Supreme Court just made it nearly mandatory for states to throw money at religious-based grifts. However, this goes way beyond providing an easy way for places like Florida to shovel nearly unregulated billions of dollars into churches they like.

The fight over “school choice” dates back to the ’60s and ’70s, when all-white Christian schools wanted to retain their tax-exempt status. This became the central political issue for people like Jerry Falwell, and was the catalyst for what became the Christian Right as a political block in the U.S. Today, religious schools aren’t (theoretically) allowed to discriminate on the basis of race, but they’re allowed to ignore most other civil rights laws.

They’re always exempted from Title IX (prohibiting sex discrimination), and the Americans With Disabilities Act. They’re also exempt from state and local non-discrimination laws against LGBT people; in many cases, they refuse to serve children whose parents or siblings are LGBT.

This illustrates the broader agenda here: Religious schools are meant to reshape American society by dictating who has access to them, and to an education in general. Suppose the plaintiffs in Carson v. Makin who don’t have any public schools available have an LGBT child? Or are LGBT themselves? Or have a child with disabilities? Functionally, the state is no longer providing public education, though it remains there in theory.

This ruling is also a Trojan horse for one of the biggest issues for religious conservatives: bringing back prayer in schools. In Ohio, front-running U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel has made bringing back compulsory religion and prayer in public schools one of his top campaign issues.

Conservatives see bringing back prayer in schools, and making Americans Christians whether they want to be or not, as a panacea to all of society’s ills: from abortion, to gun violence, to poverty. They believe that all of our problems can be traced back to removing prayer and state-sponsored religion from our schools. Rather than addressing problems with solutions based in research, social science, or good policy, their solution is, as always, thoughts and prayers.

The Supreme Court has essentially handed them a roadmap to test their theory that if everyone just went to a nice Christian school and prayed a lot, everything would be super. With queers in schools gone, kids with Downs and cerebral palsy no longer sucking up funding, boys being free to be boys and girls being free to be girls, and a curriculum based on the three R’s, (rosaries, Revelations, and resurrection), they’ll finally Make America Great Again with a heaping helping of that old-time religion.

SCOTUS has told states that they no longer have to provide for public education so long as a religious-based alternative is made available through vouchers. It seems nearly inevitable that states like Texas and Florida will test this by slashing funding for public schools and opening the purse for vouchers to religious schools even further.

The courts today resemble those that gave us Plessy v. Ferguson on the basis that rights that exist only in theory are as good as one that are actively enforced. This court has no issue deciding that an education is available because their parents can stop being lesbians at any time. Or that as long as the state puts some educational videos online, that counts as providing for all the people who can’t (or won’t) go to a religious school.

The possibilities for abuse here are endless, and it is inevitable that deep red states will take this SCOTUS ruling and run with it. The result is a mandate for churches to get richer, more students getting a worse education, and a widening of the two-tiered country we live in.

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Brynn Tannehill is a senior analyst at a Washington D.C. area think-tank, and is the author of “American Fascism: How the GOP is Subverting Democracy.”

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The preceding article was originally published by DAME magazine and is republished with permission.

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Jimmy Biblarz: Representation matters, why I’m running for LA City Council

Jimmy Biblarz is a candidate for LA City Council to represent District 5 which runs from Bel-Air, through Palms, and east to Hancock Park

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Photo courtesy of Jimmy Biblarz

By Jimmy Biblarz | BEVERLY GROVE – Angelenos routinely list homelessness and housing affordability as their top concerns. As a candidate for Los Angeles City Council’s Fifth District, I’ve heard the concerns of worried and frustrated residents and the impact both have had on their lives. They want real solutions to these seemingly intractable issues.  

Housing affordability has shaped my life. When I was 12, my family was evicted from our apartment and we moved all over the city due to housing costs. Compounding this was growing up gay under the cloud of Prop. 8, which temporarily enshrined state-sanctioned marriage as between a man or a woman. The scars from this confluence of events are very much still with me. 

People don’t usually associate the LGBTQ+ community with homelessness and housing affordability. But by every measure, the LGBTQ+ community fares far worse than the general population. According to Williams Institute research, up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+. Half of all trans people experiencing homelessness nationally live in California, with Los Angeles city having the highest number, per the National Coalition to End Homelessness. LGBTQ+ folks are 15% more likely to be poor than their hetero and cisgender counterparts, especially queer people of color. Fewer than 50% of LGBTQ+ people own their homes, compared to 70% for non-LGBTQ+ people. And we know that LGBTQ+ still experience discrimination in the housing market; housing providers are less likely to respond to rental and mortgage inquiries from same-sex couples are more likely to charge same-sex couples higher rents.

This is why representation matters. Amidst calls for more permanent supportive housing, shelter beds, or tiny homes, the LGBTQ+ story is too often missed, especially trans voices. Temporary congregate shelters are poor fits for LGBTQ+ folks, typically offering few LGBTQ+-specific medical or mental health services, and often feeling quite unsafe to gender and sexuality minorities. That’s why queer people are much more likely to experience unsheltered homelessness, living on the streets, versus other forms of homelessness (“doubling up” with friends or family, living in a car). We need leaders who see issues through a queer lens.

Los Angeles has long been a haven for queer young people. That is a point of pride for our city. We must do everything we can to ensure it stays one. We must bring permanent supportive housing online with the urgency this crisis demands, by streamlining plan approvals and the location siting process, and supporting master lease agreements. And we must ensure new supportive housing includes the slate of medical and mental health services LGBTQ+ people need. Perhaps above all, we must invest in methodical and sustained street engagement teams led by well-compensated and highly trained experts with specific knowledge of the issues LGBTQ+ folks face. 

We need to elect leaders who are serious about new housing in LA, especially in the high-opportunity and job-rich areas of Council District 5 where I’m running. My plan focuses on building diverse, low-cost housing along under-utilized commercial transit corridors in high-opportunity areas in CD-5 (like Robertson, Westwood, Melrose, and L.A. Cienega) and holding developers’ feet to the fire on affordability requirements in market-rate units. Simultaneously, we must ensure wages rise in tandem with L.A.’s cost of living via indexed minimum wage increases that exceed increases in cost of living and investments in high-quality, unionized, green jobs. There is a growing gulf between real wages and the cost of housing. If we don’t act to reverse this trend, more and more LGBTQ+ people will be priced out of LA, and our thriving LGBTQ+ communities will disappear. 

With Ron Galperin’s departure, Mike Bonin’s retirement, and Mitch O’Farrell’s re-election far from a sure thing, we are at risk of losing LGBTQ+ representation on the Los Angeles City Council. Los Angeles has had nearly uninterrupted LGBTQ+ representation on the City Council since Joel Wachs was first elected in 1971, save a brief period in the mid-2000s. Come November, the nation’s second largest region could have no LGBTQ+ representation in the city or the county.  

Los Angeles needs LGBTQ+ leaders who understand the issues our community faces everyday. Queer people understand the importance of politics acutely; we can’t afford backsliding in representation, especially given the proliferation of anti-LGBTQ+ laws across the country, and growing hate in our own city. 

My life experience makes me uniquely qualified to meet this moment. I understand the major issues facing Angelenos because I’ve lived it. But it’s about more than my city council race. What’s at stake is a true representative democracy—a city that reflects its citizens. I urge all LGBTQ+ Angelenos to get informed, get involved and vote by June 7th. Our voice matters and we’ve come too far to let it slip away. 

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Jimmy Biblarz is a candidate for City Council in District 5, which runs from Bel-Air, through Palms, and east to Hancock Park, bordering most of West Hollywood.

Born and raised in West LA, Jimmy is an educator, policy expert, and housing advocate. Shaped by his own experience with housing insecurity and eviction, Jimmy centers empathy and compassion in his approach to the homelessness and housing crisis.

Jimmy attended K-12 LAUSD schools in the district, was at Harvard for college, graduate school, and law school and is now a professor at UCLA Law School. He lives with his partner Harry, in Beverly Grove. 

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Why I’m Running: Lindsey Horvath

Lindsey Horvath is a candidate for the seat representing Los Angeles County’s 3rd supervisorial district on the County Board of Supervisors

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Courtesy of Lindsey Horvath

WEST HOLLYWOOD – My career is defined by tackling the hardest problems, building diverse coalitions, and delivering results for my community. I’m running to be the next Los Angeles County Supervisor from the 3rd District because I have the determination and experience to make a difference for the people who need it most.

Right now, working families are struggling to keep up with a crush of compounding crises. We need Los Angeles County to step up and protect workers’ rights while creating a thriving local economy. We need sustainable, supportive housing and services for the people living on our streets and community-focused public safety services that keep us all safe. We need our government to work for us. 

I’m ready to use my experience leading the region on issues like homelessness, public safety, transportation, and economic development to put Los Angeles County back to work for the people. Throughout my career as a public servant, I have scored victories for my community on advancing the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people, as well as creating age-friendly, sustainable neighborhoods, and I’m just getting started. 

Of all the candidates, I bring a proven record of bridge-building, community engagement, and innovative problem-solving on the local level. Like many Angelenos, I am a renter, a millennial, and someone who directly faces the needs of working people. My experience and connections at the local level have delivered opportunities to serve in statewide and national leadership roles. 

I am the only candidate with relevant, current experience at the local level who has the community connections to implement real, on-the-ground, culturally-competent solutions to our District’s most urgent challenges. I’m currently working within County leadership to implement solutions to our homelessness and housing crises as well as our broken criminal justice system, to improve our health and quality of life through enhanced social programs, and to help Los Angeles transition towards a sustainable, clean energy future. 

I’m also the only candidate who has direct experience navigating the LA County Sheriff’s Department to implement real and lasting change. This includes my work to clear the backlog of untested rape kit evidence and to hold the Sheriff and the Department accountable.

As Mayor during the pandemic, I worked with businesses and employees to keep businesses safely open and to improve working conditions. The unique, diverse coalition of support we’ve developed reflects the diversity of our region, and makes our campaign uniquely positioned to connect with ALL communities throughout the district.

As a municipal official for 15 years, I took action to keep our communities healthy for all of our residents by fighting for investment in public safety services, preserving and building more affordable housing, improving public transit by bringing Metro rail to our District ahead of schedule, and finding solutions to care for and house our growing unhoused population.

We need leaders who know how to deliver for our communities. I’ve done this not just in West Hollywood but as Past President of the California Contract Cities; Board Member for the National League of Cities (NLC); Past President of Women in Municipal Government (WIMG) for the National League of Cities; Chair of the Liability Trust Fund Claims Board & Oversight Committee; and Executive Committee Member and Legislative & Regulatory Chair for Clean Power Alliance of Southern California.

Combating homelessness is a top priority for me. My leadership in the City of West Hollywood has produced an intersectional approach to solving homelessness – including housing, services, and community safety – that has delivered results. In addition to inclusionary housing, I have championed the production of transitional, supportive, and long-term affordable housing solutions. I also initiated the City’s request to have dedicated LASD Mental Evaluation Teams (MET), which combine a clinically-trained social worker with a public safety professional to respond to relevant calls.

We need to establish teams to meet people where they are with the relevant support they need, including mental health services, addiction recovery, and job training, instead of leaving them to face the additional challenges of navigating the endless bureaucratic process alone. We must invest in solutions that take into account the root causes of homelessness, rather than wastefully spending more public dollars without solving the foundational problems.

We also need to take immediate action to transform Los Angeles into a leading clean energy county. Climate change is an issue that requires bold action, which is why I supported the adoption of net-zero policy goals to set my community on the path to becoming a zero-carbon city, and I will work with cities and neighborhoods to do the same across Los Angeles County.
Throughout my career, I’ve worked to bring people together to find solutions to the toughest local problems. I’m ready to put my skills to work for people of District 3 so that we can build a Los Angeles that works for everyone.

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Lindsey Horvath is a candidate for the seat representing Los Angeles County’s 3rd supervisorial district on the County Board of Supervisors. She currently is an elected member of the City of West Hollywood City Council.

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Regarding Chappelle being attacked

“It seems that every time something like this happens, we remove another block from the wall that separates from anarchy and mob rule”

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Courtesy of Netflix

By Julia Scotti | WHITING, Nj. – Regarding Chappelle, in the past I’ve made no secret about my feelings for Chappelle, so I won’t rehash them again. This essay is about him being attacked on stage last night and to a lesser extent, what happened to Chris Rock at the Oscars.

Comedy is one of the last bastions for truly Free Speech. Ask any comic if they feel the same way and I would bet that they would agree. One of the reasons people come to see us is that comedians often reflect what the audience is feeling but dares not say aloud. Sometimes it is risky, but we hope that if we present it in a humorous, absurd way, you will see what we see.

In general, most comedians will adhere to the unwritten rule of “Not Punching Down,” that is, not picking on those who can’t fight back. Chappelle, of course, violates this rule constantly. In fact just after the attack, he joking referred to his attacker as a trans-man.

Now I’m sure that his lame attempt at humor was an effort to try to diffuse the tension onstage and return to normal. But joking or not, there are some in that audience who will believe that their idol was indeed attacked by a deranged Trans man. I don’t know if the attacker was or wasn’t. I don’t care and neither should Chappelle. What I do care about though is this seeming trend toward violent response when someone is unhappy with the comedians’ words.

It pains me to have to defend this guy (Chappelle), but there is a bigger issue here. What does it say about us as a nation when our only response to being dissatisfied with the outcome of an event is to resort to violence? If an election doesn’t turn out the way we want? Storm the Capitol. Unhappy with certain people trying to pass laws guaranteeing equality? Ridicule them, intimidate them and threaten their families until they acquiesce to your way of thinking. If a comedian says something you don’t like, goad them into responding to your heckles until you can record it and become a social media star, or worse, attack them onstage.

I don’t know what Chappelle’s attacker’s motivation was. I understand that he got quite a beat down from the security people at the venue. 

Take a step back from the news and try to see us from a different perspective. Through my lens at least, it seems that every time something like this happens, we remove another block from the wall that separates from anarchy and mob rule. It’s sad, really. Very, very sad.

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Julia Scotti is a nationally known beloved Trans comedian, actor, and fan favorite of America’s Got Talent audiences around the world.

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