Removing the Stain of Blaine
By:Keith A Fournier, Esq
(c) Third Millennium, LLC.
Court watchers, advocates of religious freedom, and proponents of parental choice in education are closely watching an important case currently pending before the United States Supreme Court. That case, Locke v. Davey, concerns the State of Washington’s denial of funding to a College student. Because Joshua Davey graduated in the top ten percent of his high school class and came from a low-income family, he was awarded a scholarship. Joshua chose a double major in religious studies and business administration. Because of that choice, his scholarship award was revoked by the State of Washington.
The denial of scholarship monies to Joshua Davey has far reaching consequences for all religious parents who desire to have their values reinforced in the educational experience that takes place outside of the first schoolhouse of the home.
However, this case concerns much, much more. The denial was predicated upon the use of a so-called “Blaine Amendment.” The constitutionality of these discriminatory laws will now be decided by the High Court. They are an antiquated vestige of anti-Catholic bigotry in our nation’s founding and are now being used by opponents of parental choice in education.
In Zelman v. Simmons-Harris in June 2002, the U. S Supreme Court ruled vouchers for parental choice in education are constitutional. If the Blaine Amendments, which are found in the constitutions of 38 states, are declared unconstitutional, it will remove one of the last legal impediments to parental choice in education across the country.
The provisions of the so-called “Blaine Amendments” have been interpreted in a manner that is even more restrictive than the Establishment Clause (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”) in the Federal Constitution has recently been interpreted. These amendments gained their name because they were championed by a notoriously anti-Catholic Senator from Maine named James Blaine.
When the first wave of Catholic immigrants came to America, they came in an array of ethnic diversity and cultural variety. They also practiced a different form of Christianity than the majority of the American Christian population. As this Catholic minority grew, the Protestant majority responded with isolationism and nativism. Some sought to homogenize this growing minority into their idea of American civil piety. One of the socio-political structures employed was the common (public) school system.
The predominately Protestant culture bore seeds of anti-Catholicism and failed to respect the legitimate desires of Catholic parents to keep their children Catholic. Catholics responded by forming their own schools to ensure that their children could live and practice their Catholic Christian faith. This set Catholic schools in competition with the “common school” system.
The Protestant majority tried to deny state aid in any form to institutions they labeled as “sectarian.” They failed to accomplish this task at the Federal level, but were successful in their attempts in many State Constitutions such as Washington’s. These so-called “Blaine Amendments” effectively blocked any local or state initiatives that might allow such aid to Catholic schools or parents.
America is now experiencing the consequences of the injustice and errors of past discrimination. Many of the old prejudices are now rightly displaced. However, issues such as the right of parents to choose where to send their children to school or what majors to study reach far beyond the climate of hostility toward one religious group that fostered the Blaine Amendments. Ironically, some religious people whose very ancestors may have supported such efforts are now themselves the subject of their discriminatory impact.
The discriminatory shadow cast by these Amendments now affects Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Protestants, Muslims, and others that form the religious tapestry that is the American experience. Parents of every race, creed and color seek to extend their educational mission as the first teachers of their children through choice from among a wide array of schooling options.
Most Americans support the accommodation and tolerance of religion, recognizing that religious persons and institutions play a vital role in society and promote the common good. As Professor John Jeffries Jr. has written concerning the Blaine amendments, “the right response is not refinement but repudiation.” The time has come to put Blaine—and a century of discrimination—wholly behind us once and for all. The treatment of Mr. Davey is repugnant to the legacy of authentic freedom protected by the United States Constitution. It is time to remove the stain of Blaine.
Fournier, a constitutional lawyer and policy activist, is a co-founder of the Your Catholic Voice movement serves as the President of Your Catholic Voice Foundation which has filed an Amicus Brief with the United States Supreme Court in Locke v. Davey asking that the Court find Blaine Amendments unconstitutional.
Your Catholic Voice Foundation
http://www.ycvf.org VA, US
Deacon Keith Fournier - President, 757 546-9580
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