The Public Should Pay Only for Public Schools, not Religious Schools
Robert Natelson, a retired constitutional law professor who is allied with the ultra-conservative Heartland Institute, writes in this opinion article that the Supreme Court may well strike down the state prohibitions on funding religious schools (known as “baby Blaine Amendments) because of their origins in anti-Catholic bias. If this happened, it would pave the way for government to divert public funding to the vouchers for religious schools that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos advocates for.
The Blaine Amendment was proposed by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives James G. Blaine in 1875. Blaine was an ambitious politician from Maine who ran for president in 1876, 1880, and 1884. He was interested in a wide range of issues, including trade, monetary policy, and foreign affairs. He is remembered today for the Constitutional amendment he proposed, which passed the House but not the Senate:
“No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefor, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect; nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.”
Although the Blaine Amendment was not adopted as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it was adopted by many states and incorporated into their state constitutions to prohibit spending public money on religious schools.
Natelson is right that the public schools of the nineteenth century were deeply imbued with Protestant teachings and practices. I wrote about the battle between Protestants and Catholics in my history of the New York City public schools (The Great School Wars). The arrival of large numbers of Irish immigrants in the 1840s, mostly Catholic, concurred with the beginnings of public school systems in urban areas.
In New York City, Bishop John Hughes (later Archbishop Hughes) fought the local school authorities over the content of the textbooks, which contained anti-Catholic selections, and the daily Protestant prayers and rituals in the schools. Hughes became politically active and demanded equal funding for Catholic schools, since the public schools–in reality, as he said–were Protestant schools. Even if they cleansed the textbooks of The Public Should Pay Only for Public Schools, not Religious Schools | Diane Ravitch's blog: