School Choice Threatened by Anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments

In an interview last night on EWTN News Nightly, Cardinal Newman Society President Patrick Reilly called attention to the anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments found in many state constitutions that threaten religious freedom and school choice by blocking funds to families who want to send their children to religious schools.

Reilly said it’s “extremely important” for supporters of faithful Catholic education to focus on repealing the Blaine Amendments right now “especially with the push for school choice, and certainly with the secularization in the country.” He noted that in some states “these Blaine Amendments have been used to block any sort of public support that might eventually go to Catholic schools,” such as vouchers and tax credits.

During the interview, Reilly also pointed out that Blaine Amendments “grew out of one of the worst periods of American history.”

“During the 1800s there was a lot of anti-Catholicism, and President Ulysses S. Grant was actually the one who proposed a constitutional amendment that would prevent states from using any funding to support Catholic schools, so it was very much directed at Catholic education,” he said.

Blaine Amendments are named for former Speaker of the House and U.S. Secretary of State James G. Blaine who, following Grant’s lead, attempted to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit the use of taxpayer funds at “sectarian” schools in 1875 while he was Speaker. The federal amendment failed, but versions of the amendment were “added to state constitutions in order to enforce the nativist bigotry of the day” against Catholics, according to The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, and are currently found in 37 state constitutions.

As the Newman Society reported last week, it’s possible that the U.S. Supreme Court could overturn all state Blaine Amendments if the Court takes a case out of Colorado challenging a Colorado Supreme Court ruling that blocked scholarship funds to families based on Blaine Amendment language in the state Constitution.

The scholarship program was passed unanimously in March 2011 by the Douglas County School District Board of Education, but was almost immediately enjoined following legal challenges by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and several local organizations. The program awarded scholarships to approximately 500 students in Douglas County, Colo., who were supposed to be able to use the scholarship to attend a private schools of their choice, regardless of a school’s religious identity.

Three petitions were submitted in October 2015 asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of Colorado’s Blaine Amendment and the school choice scholarship program in the state. The case “will hopefully be going to the Supreme Court,” said Reilly. The decision of the Supreme Court to hear the case could come as early as January after it reconvenes from winter recess on January 11, 2016.

The Newman Society also reported this week on families in Montana being denied scholarship funds through a new state school choice program for wanting to send students to private religious schools. The state lawmaker who drafted the legislation for the new program said it was “carefully crafted” to allow funding of private religious schools, but the state, relying on the Blaine Amendment language in the state Constitution, will not allow the funds to be used at religious schools.

Patrick Reilly’s full interview begins at 13:53:

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