In 1875, following a speech the year before by President Ulysses S. Grant that strongly encouraged the idea, Congressman James G. Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The "Blaine Amendment" sought to amend the Constitution to prohibit state governments from, among other things, funding religious schools with public money. Although the amendment eventually failed, many states have added provisions to their constitutions that accomplish what Congressman Blaine could not.
This article discusses the original Blaine Amendment, similar laws in state codes, school vouchers, and more. See FindLaw's School Funding section for more articles.
The Failed Amendment
Had it been enacted, Congressman Blaine's 1875 amendment would have prohibited state governments from establishing an official religion and from using public money to fund religious schools. Because it was an attempt to change the U.S. Constitution, the 1875 amendment would have applied to every U.S. state. However, it was short a few votes in the Senate.
State Blaine Amendments
As mentioned, one of the main intents of the 1875 amendment was to prohibit state governments from funding religious schools with public money. Despite the amendment's failure to pass, nearly forty states have since amended their constitutions to prohibit funding for religion-affiliated schools. Note that somewhat confusingly, a state's constitutional prohibition against religious school funding can also be referred to as its "Blaine Amendment."
State Blaine Amendment provisions are similar in language and scope to the 1875 federal amendment. For example, California's constitution prohibits its state and its local governments from funding schools "and other institutions" that are "controlled by any religious creed." Similarly, Texas' constitution prohibits public money from being used "for the benefit" of any sect or religion.
Criticism and Opposition
Some critics charge that while state prohibitions against funding for religious schools may sound fair and sensible, the result is harmful to students and may even constitute a form of discrimination. These critics believe that the funding prohibitions limit the ability of parents to decide what's best for their children. For example, a state's Blaine Amendment could prohibit a parent from using a state-issued voucher to pay tuition at a school that's religiously affiliated, even if that school is academically strong and otherwise suitable to the parent's child.
Blaine Amendment and School Vouchers
As more states consider issuing vouchers that parents may use to pay private school tuition, prohibitions against funding for religious schools will become increasingly debated. As a precursor of what we might expect, Florida voters rejected a constitutional repeal of its Blaine Amendment prohibiting funding for religious schools in 2012. The rejected measure was an attempt to overcome a 2006 Florida Supreme Court decision finding that the state's voucher program, which allowed parents to use state-issued vouchers to pay private religious school tuition, was unconstitutional.
The legal tension between these two important and noble interests -- providing parents with school choice and preventing state governments from favoring any one religion -- will continue to be a source of debate and new legislation, as states decide whether to repeal their Blaine Amendments to allow funding for religiously-affiliated schools.
How an Attorney Can Help
An attorney can help you to understand how your state's constitution and how laws affect issues such as school choice and vouchers. If you have questions about your state's Blaine Amendment or about education laws in general, you can consult with an experienced attorney through FindLaw.
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