A Homegrown Challenge to Blaine Amendments
The U.S. Supreme Court has decided to hear Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Pauley, a case out of our own backyard.
Here are the details: Several years ago, Trinity Lutheran applied to the State of Missouri for a grant to resurface their playground. They were denied that grant because they were a church, and Missouri’s Constitution explicitly bans public support of religious educational institutions. The church is arguing that by discriminating against religious organizations in awarding grants, the state is violating those organizations’ right to free exercise of their religion.
Historically, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that states can give funds to religious educational organizations without violating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. Constitution—supporting organizations that are doing something to help society isn’t establishing a state religion. In general, these programs were simply required to be neutral toward religion; that is, that any religious denomination or non-religious organizations would be just as likely to get support as any particular religious group would be.
Several state constitutions, Missouri’s included, went a step farther. Missouri’s constitution includes the following language:
“Neither the general assembly, nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other municipal corporation shall ever make an appropriation or pay any public fund to help to support or sustain any private or public school, academy, seminary, college, university or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination.”
This is called a “Blaine Amendment,” named after James G. Blaine, who in 1875, while he was in the US House of Representatives, proposed an amendment to the US Constitution that said:
“That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion”
Blaine failed, but that language did end up in numerous state constitutions, like Missouri’s. The court now has to decide if it is constitutional. This particular case matters because Blaine Amendments have been a huge impediment to private school choice programs, and bringing down Blaines would be a huge win for children and families desperate for more schooling options.