Do Not Give Me That Blaine Old Excuse
In the late 19th Century, James Blaine, a noted Republican politician, led the charge against government support of sectarian (read Catholic) institutions. As a result of his efforts, 39 states adopted provisions in their constitutions placing restrictions on state dollars flowing to religious organizations. These provisions are known today as Blaine amendments.
The Missouri Constitution contains several provisions that place restrictions on public dollars flowing to religions institutions. The most prominent states:
That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion, or in aid of any priest, preacher, minister or teacher thereof, as such; and that no preference shall be given to nor any discrimination made against any church, sect or creed of religion, or any form of religious faith or worship.
The Blaine amendment in Missouri’s Constitution has led many to believe that a private school voucher plan could not pass constitutional muster. It seems that the Blaine excuse may be just that, an excuse.
Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, and Wisconsin all have Blaine amendments and the legislature in each of those states has passed a voucher program. Of course, voucher opponents invariably challenge these programs in the courts. As we have just seen in Indiana, it is possible for these programs to be upheld in spite of a Blaine amendment.
On March 26, 2013, the Indiana Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the state’s far-reaching voucher program is in fact constitutional. The justices concluded:
[T]he voucher program expenditures do not directly benefit religious schools but rather directly benefit lower-income families with schoolchildren by providing an opportunity for such children to attend non-public schools if desired.
The justices were absolutely correct. School choice programs are not designed to benefit schools; they are designed to give families options. Indiana was not the first state to uphold a voucher bill. Previously, 10 of 14 cases regarding vouchers in states with Blaine amendments have been decided in favor of school choice.
Blaine amendments vary by state and there is no guarantee that a voucher would be constitutional in Missouri, but it is about time to stop giving the Blaine excuse for not providing students with educational options.