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  • May 24 2016

JAMES G. BLAINE: Who was he, and how is he affecting children’s education today?

Maine legislator and presidential hopeful James G. Blaine (1830–1893) was a member of Congress in the mid- to late 1800s, a time when Catholic immigrants were flooding into the country and public schools were overwhelmingly Protestant.

Catholic immigrant students were encouraged to assimilate in public schools. Desiring an educational option that was consistent with their community’s religious convictions, Catholic leaders sought to open their own schools and pursued the same access to public funds that common schools enjoyed.

Their proposals might have seemed reasonable to Blaine and the rest of the nation’s leaders at the time had anti-Catholic sentiment in America not been at its peak.

For instance, newspapers and magazines in the mid-1800s regularly published cartoons depicting Irish Catholic immigrants as apes and subhuman creatures. A Harper’s Weekly cartoon by famed cartoonist Thomas Nast even portrayed bishops as crocodiles, crawling from the Atlantic with their mitres ready to devour students in the U.S. public schools.

On December 14, 1875, then-Congressman Blaine introduced an amendment to the U.S. Constitution which would have had the effect of prohibiting Catholic schools from receiving the public funds they requested. Blaine’s proposal would have prevented states from allowing any taxpayer money to flow to any “religious sects”—a term that was well-known code for “Catholic.” His proposal passed overwhelmingly in the House and failed in the Senate by just four votes; however, others in the states and Congressional territories joined his effort.

By 1890, 29 states had restrictions in their state constitutions that blocked public funds from sectarian schools. Many referred to the provisions as Blaine’s amendments in respect to his federal effort. Blaine amendments were even strong-armed into state constitutions as a precondition for new states to join the Union.

Today, more than one-third of the United States is affected by these antiquated and historically bigoted amendments, and even more states are affected by variations on its restrictions.

All too often, opponents of educational freedom cite these laws beyond their original intent in an attempt to thwart families seeking learning alternatives outside the education establishment. To date, more than two dozen legal challenges to school choice have been filed in state courts using Blaine amendments and other similar provisions, with mixed rulings.

Though a state’s Blaine amendment might present challenges for educational choice, many states have prevailed despite them. Indiana, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin are examples of states with strict Blaine amendments that have passed, and whose courts have upheld, strongly funded school voucher programs, all of which have gone on to help tens of thousands of children access the schooling options they need to succeed.

Currently, Montana, Nevada, Florida, Georgia and Douglas County, Colorado are in the midst of Blaine-related litigation in state and federal courts. Colorado’s case is awaiting a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on whether they will accept the case or allow the lower court decision (Colorado Supreme Court) blocking the Douglas County voucher to stand. This is a case that could affect the validity of Blaine amendments in all other states.

In the words of Justice Clarence Thomas, “This doctrine, born of bigotry, should be buried now.” If the courts follow Justice Thomas’s wisdom, more states may grant students the freedom to choose the best educational options that meet their learning needs, and opens the door to a happy and successful future.

 

States with Blaine Amendments, Compelled Support Clauses

State
Blaine Amendment
Compelled Support Clause
Both
Alabama
Yes
Yes
X
Alaska
Yes
No
Arizona
Yes
No
Arkansas
No
Yes
California
Yes
No
Colorado
Yes
Yes
X
Connecticut
No
Yes
Delaware
Yes
Yes
X
Florida
Yes
No
Georgia
Yes
No
Hawaii
Yes
No
Idaho
Yes
Yes
X
Illinois
Yes
Yes
X
Indiana
Yes
Yes
X
Iowa
No
Yes
Kansas
Yes
Yes
X
Kentucky
Yes
Yes
X
Louisiana
No
No
Maine
No
No
Maryland
No
Yes
Massachusetts
Yes
No
Michigan
Yes
Yes
X
Minnesota
Yes
Yes
X
Mississippi
Yes
No
Missouri
Yes
Yes
X
Montana
Yes
No
Nebraska
Yes
Yes
X
Nevada
Yes
No
New Hampshire
Yes
Yes
X
New Jersey
No
Yes
New Mexico
Yes
Yes
X
New York
Yes
No
North Carolina
No
No
North Dakota
Yes
No
Ohio
Yes
Yes
X
Oklahoma
Yes
No
Oregon
Yes
No
Pennsylvania
Yes
Yes
X
Rhode Island
No
Yes
South Carolina
Yes
No
South Dakota
Yes
Yes
X
Tennessee
No
Yes
Texas
Yes
Yes
X
Utah
Yes
No
Vermont
No
Yes
Virginia
Yes
Yes
X
Washington
Yes
No
West Virginia
No
Yes
Wisconsin
Yes
Yes
X
Wyoming
Yes
No

Source: Lindsey M. Burke and Jarrett Stepman, "Breaking Down Blaine Amendments' Indefensible Barrier to Education Choice," Journal of School Choice: International Research and Reform 8, no. 4 (2014), table 1, p. 642, doi:10.1080/15582159.2014.973783.

 

The Friedman Foundation is on the front lines fighting for educational freedom, having filed amicus briefs in several school choice cases. For more information about Blaine amendments and current litigation, contact us at info@edchoice.org.

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