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Blaine Amendments

The term Blaine Amendment refers to either a failed federal constitutional amendment or actual constitutional provisions that exist in 38 of the 50 state constitutions in the United States both of which forbid direct government aid to educational institutions that have any religious affiliation. Both were aimed at Catholics, most notably the Irish, who had immigrated and started their own parochial schools.[1]

Proposed federal amendment

President Ulysses S. Grant (1869-1877) in a speech in 1875 to a veteran's meeting, called for a Constitutional amendment that would mandate free public schools and prohibit the use of public money for sectarian schools. Grant laid out his agenda for "good common school education." He attacked government support for "sectarian schools" run by religious organizations, and called for the defense of public education "unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical dogmas." Grant declared that "Church and State" should be "forever separate." Religion, he said, should be left to families, churches, and private schools devoid of public funds.[2]

After Grant's speech Republican Congressman James G. Blaine (1830-1893) proposed the amendment to the federal Constitution. Blaine, who actively sought Catholic votes when he ran for president in 1884, believed that possibility of hurtful agitation on the school question should be ended.[3] In 1875, the proposed amendment passed by a vote of 180 to 7 in the House of Representatives, but failed by four votes to achieve the necessary two-thirds vote in the United States Senate. It never became law.

The proposed text was:

"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."

Amendments to state constitutions

Supporters of the proposal then turned their attention to state legislatures, where their efforts were met with far greater success: Eventually, all but 11 states (Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Vermont, and West Virginia) passed laws that meet the general criteria for designation as "Blaine Amendments," in that they ban the use of public funds to support sectarian private schools.[4] In some states the laws were included in constitutions drafted by newly formed states concomitant with their admission to the Union and are thus technically not "amendments".

The state Blaine amendments are still in effect in many states.[5][6]

In 2002, the United States Supreme Court in the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision partially vitiated these amendments, in theory, when it ruled that vouchers were constitutional if state funds followed a child to a privately chosen school, even if it were religious.[7]

In 2012, a measure repealing the Blaine Amendment failed to win a simple majority in Florida. 60% approval was required for adoption.[8]

See also


Further reading

  • Deforrest; Mark Edward. "An Overview and Evaluation of State Blaine Amendments: Origins, Scope, and First Amendment Concerns," Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, Vol. 26, 2003 online edition
  • Green, Steven K. "The Blaine Amendment Reconsidered," 36 Am. J. Legal Hist. 38 (1992)

External links

  • The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty A leading opponent of Blaine Amendments in the legal arena
  • Becket Fund, which seeks to overturn the amendments
  • United States Commission on Civil Rights
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