Blaine Amendment set for more scrutiny by SCOTUS

Thursday, January 16, 2020
 | 
Chris Woodward (OneNewsNow.com)

U.S. Supreme Court w/ flagA religious liberty law firm is publicizing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court that could impact private schools across the country.

The nation’s highest court is scheduled to hear oral arguments January 22 over Montana’s use of the controversial Blaine Amendment that prohibits mixing taxpayers’ money with private, faith-based schools.

Diana Verm, senior counsel at Becket, says the case centers around Montana allowing a $150 tax credit for contributing to a private school scholarship program. The tax credit was struck down by the state’s supreme court which said it violated the Blaine Amendment because the scholarships are used by Montana students at private religious schools.

The case is Espinoza v Montana Department of Revenue. Becket has filed an amicus brief in the case. 

According to Verm, it is hoped the U.S. Supreme Court will address the “constitutionality” of Blaine, which she describes as “archaic laws” that targeted Catholics during the 1800s.

Verm, Diana (Becket Fund)As many as 40 states still have their own version of a Blaine Amendment, named for Congressman James G. Blaine who tried but failed to pass a constitutional amendment.

 “Their sole purpose,” Verm complains, “was to target Catholics by excluding their influence from the predominantly Protestant public schools."

Today, Blaine is now often cited by state governments to target religious-based schools at the same time the school choice movement is attempting to wrestle power from the public-school monopoly.

The high court is set to hear the Montana case just three years after it ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church v Comer that a government cannot exclude religious groups from a government program.

First Amendment (Bill of Rights)Much like Montana’s case over a $150 tax credit, Trinity Lutheran proved to be about more than access to a scrap-tire playground program operated by the State of Missouri. 

“Denying a generally available benefit solely on account of religious identity," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, "imposes a penalty on the free exercise of religion that can be justified only by a state interest ‘of the highest order."

The high court ruled 7-2 in that case.

"We pointed out in our amicus brief that Montana's reliance on its Blaine Amendment to strike down a scholarship program for low-income students, just because of religion,” says Verm, “invokes the Blaine's ugly history, and continues to hurt children simply seeking better educational opportunities.”

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