Justice and Witness Ministries regrets Supreme Court's 'turn from school integration'

Justice and Witness Ministries regrets Supreme Court's 'turn from school integration'

June 27, 2007
Written by Bennett Guess

Justice and Witness Ministries released a statement regretting U.S. Supreme Court's June 28 decision on school integration.


Cleveland, Ohio —While, in the United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, we regret that, in a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down Seattle's and Louisville's voluntary programs promoting school integration and opportunity, we are pleased that in a separate opinion Justice Kennedy joined the four dissenters to recognize our nation's compelling need for diverse and integrated schools. 

While it struck down the programs in Louisville and Seattle, today a majority of the Court made clear that diverse and inclusive schools are important to the future of our country, and that communities have a clear stake in overcoming the isolation and marginalization of children.

We disagree with the Supreme Court decision to strike down these voluntary programs that promote inclusion and opportunity. We believe those programs were consistent with the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which is intended to provide opportunities, not deny them.  Unfortunately the Court's decision will make it harder for school districts to tailor programs to serve particular demographic groups of children, many of whom have been underserved for generations.

In a dissent, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Souter, and Stevens, Justice Breyer laments that today's decision by the majority will make it harder for school districts to design programs that bring children together across racial lines:  "Many parents… want their children to attend schools with children of different races. Indeed, the very school districts that once spurned integration now strive for it. The long history of their efforts reveals the complexities and difficulties they have faced. And in light of those challenges, they have asked us not to take from their hands the instruments they have used to rid their schools of racial segregation, instruments that they believe are needed to overcome the problems of cities divided by race and poverty. The plurality would decline their modest request. The plurality is wrong to do so."  

The UCC's Justice and Witness Ministries was party to an amicus brief in these cases that supported the right of the Louisville and Seattle school districts to use race as one of a number of factors to promote schooling children in demographically diverse settings at a time when our nation's schools and housing patterns have grown increasingly segregated. Research continues to demonstrate that all children benefit from learning with and from children whose backgrounds are different from their own. Serious achievement gaps demonstrate that racially separate schools remain unequal across the United States, and school finance data confirms that high spending schools continue to outspend low-spending schools by at least three to one in most states.

"We hope school districts will not give up on the ideals of opportunity, diversity, and inclusion, and that their leaders will analyze carefully this Court's ruling to discern any and all remaining ways communities can create diverse and inclusive schools in a constitutionally permissible way," said Jan Resseger, Minister for Public Education and Witness.

In 1991, the UCC's General Synod, its national governing body, proclaimed a truth that remains relevant sixteen years later: "Because the poor and their children are disproportionately people of color, the educational inequities in our public schools reinforce the racial/ethnic injustices of our society."

As an expression of long support in the United Church of Christ for integrated public schools, last week at the denomination's 26th General Synod in Hartford, Connecticut, participants were given an opportunity to learn about and celebrate the efforts of lifetime UCC member, Elizabeth Horton Sheff, mother of the named plaintiff in Sheff v. O'Neill, Connecticut's 18 year school integration case.  Sheff v. O'Neill was decided by Connecticut's supreme court in 1996 under state constitutional language that prohibits "segregation or discrimination" on the basis of race or color.  This case has resulted in a series of remedies involving city-suburban magnet schools and opportunities for children to participate in Project Choice, that provides places for children in neighboring districts to enhance integration. Because the state has lagged in meeting the requirements of a 2003 settlement, Connecticut's legislature has been meeting to strengthen the remedy.

The United Church of Christ's Justice and Witness Ministries, based in Cleveland, coordinates and implements the denomination's peace and justice advocacy mandates on behalf of 1.2 million members in over 5,700 congregations in the United States.

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