Silly separation of church and state.
More precisely, silly people who claim to support the separation of church and state. First off, the phrase never appears in the constitution, though people like to find the concept there. The constitution does grant religious freedom, which has the effect of limiting what religiously oriented actions the government can take, and that's a good thing. But it does not mean that the government can't have an interest in anything that anyone considers a religious issue, just that that can never be the sole rationale for a government action. For example, the government can ban abortion without running afoul of the 1st amendment, but only by determining that fetuses have rights, not by stating that it knows that a soul is given at conception.
The abortion issue seems likely to sort itself out just now, although it will take a while. Less likely to sort itself out is the issue of the religious rights of school children and their families. "But how are those threatened?" you might ask. I wouldn’t offer the question if I didn’t intend to answer it.
Let's start with the concept of religion. Religion cannot be limited to simply a church structure with clearly delineated beliefs and practices. Religion is much more inclusive than that. Atheism is a religion, or more accurately a set of related religions. Religion is any set of beliefs regarding the purpose and meaning of life, the definition and sources of truth, and the nature of reality, possibly including a clear judgment on the supernatural but maybe not. In this sense, everyone has a religion, and therefore everyone has religious rights to protect, and not just from unfair subjection to another's beliefs. This is an important definition because it makes it clear that freedom of religion is never freedom from religion, since no one is ever nonreligious. Everyone has a right to religious expression, and everyone has a religion to express.
There are two main places in our society where the church state issue comes up most frequently: government and schools. We get upset when a government official gives as a reason for doing something their religious beliefs, and we say something along the lines of "Well, he can't just force his beliefs on everyone else," as if his reason is more important than the action. It isn't. First off, the action is what counts, what affects the rest of society. His reason explains to the rest of us why he might take a particular action and what his goals for that action are, but the action is still the point. Second, as stated above, everyone has religious beliefs, and by the definition used above those beliefs will always influence every decision a person makes. Always. We elected people based on what actions we think they'll take, and we based that judgment on the beliefs they espoused. Well, we shouldn't be surprised when they actually act on the beliefs we chose them for (the whole money and lying politician issue aside). This is annoying to hear in public discourse as it is clearly not a well considered opinion, but we can ignore it and move past it, and it would never stand up in court anyway.
More problematic is the issue of schooling. There are two basic issues here: should schools be nonreligious, and can schools be nonreligious? The answer to both questions is no, but we'll get there. For the first question we have to decide is what schools we're talking about. Some people have argued that private schools should not be allowed, but they were defeated in the Supreme Court long ago, and not too many people care to revisit the issue. I think the majority of people agree that private schools have every right to be religiously partisan. Good, now on to public schools. We have decided that it benefits society greatly to have a large population of people with at least a basic education, so we publicly fund schools. This public funding becomes an issue every time someone wants to start the school day with prayer, and occasionally when a valedictorian wants to thank the God of their choice in a graduation speech. The argument is that to allow religion to enter into any aspect of public education is to trample the rights of the tax payers, who don't get a choice about what they fund and shouldn't be forced to fund religious activities with which they disagree. Fair enough, the argument is rational and honest. The argument does, however, favor the rights of some over the rights of others, at least in the case of the valedictorian's speech, although I think the valedictorian would be highly likely to win that case in court. Rights aside, what about the quality of the education provided? Is an education devoid of any values, not just moral but also intellectual, of any value whatsoever? And it would have to be devoid of intellectual value, since religion is the ultimate source of any determination of what constitutes a valid source of truth. Without a determination that experience constitutes truth, science means nothing. Without a decision to believe written sources, history means nothing. Math requires a reliance on logic, and literature is an open debate anyway. Education is, and should be, filled with this sort of existential discussion, and this is exactly the sort of discussion that cannot be had in a nonreligious environment. For this reason alone all education should be religious, even if that religion ends up being materialist atheism.
Then there's the consideration of the rights of the parents to instill their religious values in their children, which tends not to be successful when the people they are trusting for the construction of their understanding of reality are not holding the same basic suppositions about the world. And the rights of children to possess and express sincere religious beliefs, which properly should come up in an educational setting but would be highly disruptive in a nonreligious educational setting. Both of these rights are fully protected by the phrase "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," but discarded by the current interpretation of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." So, no, schooling should not ever be nonreligious, whether that school is public or private.
This becomes a moot point as soon as we consider the second question: can education be nonreligious. Just as no one is ever devoid of religious beliefs, even if they do not choose to define them as such, no education can be devoid of religious values. Those same value judgments on the sources of truth that provided the argument that schools shouldn't be nonreligious proves that they cannot be. No school can educate a child without making these judgments, and we cannot pretend that these judgments do not constitute religious decisions. In the end, rather than be nonreligious, all a school can do is choose its religious values. Public schools are religious institutions, just not of any religion that holds organized church services. That is not adequate fulfillment of the requirements of the argument put forth by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, among others. Since their argument does not have an appropriate solution, another way must be sought.
We have two options if we want to be institutionally neutral towards religion. We can either not fund education, in recognition that all schools teach religious values, or we can fund all religions schools evenhandedly. Since we believe that education is a public good, the first is not a good choice. That leaves the second. Yes, this involves giving government money to explicitly religious institutions, but it's only different in that explicit bit from the current situation. Since the government should not be running religious institutions, that means these schools will have to be privately operated. That means school vouchers. The ACLU and the Americans United should be supporting school vouchers, not opposing them, which brings us back to my opening statement.
Silly supporters of separation of church and state.