The Testing of States’ Blaine Amendments– No Public Funding of Religious Schools
Given that President Trump and US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are poised to offer states financial incentives for instituting/expanding school vouchers, the issue becomes whether state constitutions allow public money to be used to fund private schools, particularly religious schools.
Time for a bit of history.
The commonly-used term to refer to state constitutional amendments that either prohibit or limit the use of public money in funding religious education is “Blaine amendment.”
Interestingly, the original Blaine Amendment was not a state issue but a national issue. The amendment was proposed in 1875 by Representative James G. Blaine (R-ME) at the urging of President Ulysses S. Grant in his final Congressional address, as Jay Bybee of the University of Nevada Las Vegas noted in his 2002 article on the subject. From Bybee’s abstract:
In December 1875, President Ulysses S. Grant delivered his last annual message to Congress. He warned of “the dangers threatening us” and the “importance that all [men] should be possessed of education and intelligence,” lest “ignorant men . . . sink into acquiescence to the will of intelligence, whether directed by the demagogue or by priestcraft.” He recommended as “the primary step” a constitutional amendment “making it the duty of each of the several States to establish and forever maintain free public schools adequate to the education of all of the children” and “prohibiting the granting of any school funds, or school taxes . . . for the benefit of or in aid . . . of any religious sect or denomination.” There was no mistaking what President Grant referred to when he mentioned “demagogue,” “priestcraft,” and “religious sect” in connection with public education. Since the Civil War, the political influence of Catholics had become an important force in America, and in many states Catholics had sought public funding for their schools and charities.Congress responded promptly. Within a week, Representative James Blaine, the powerful former Speaker of the House, introduced an amendment that would become known as “the Blaine Amendment,” which provided that “no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools . . . shall ever be under the control of any religious sect.” In August 1876, the House of Representatives approved the bill with the necessary two-thirds vote. The proposal, however, received a majority but not a two-thirds vote in the Senate and failed.Although Congress never sent the Blaine Amendment to the states for ratification, the states reacted to the national attention paid to the question of public financing of sectarian schools by adopting their own “Little Blaine Amendments.” Between 1840 and 1875, nineteen states adopted some form of constitutional restriction on sectarian institutions receiving state funds; by 1900, sixteen more states, plus the District of Columbia, had added such provisions.
President Grant also said the following in a September 1975 speech at a Society of the Army of the Tennessee convention in Iowa:
Now, the centennial year of our national existence, I believe, is a good time to begin the work of strengthening the foundations of the structure commencedThe Testing of States’ Blaine Amendments– No Public Funding of Religious Schools | deutsch29: