Will Pro Catholic Justices on the US Supreme Court Vote Tax Money to RC Schools?

By Donald A. Collins | 30 January 2020
Church and State

Religious conservatives have asked the Supreme Court to overturn 37 state constitutional amendments and require taxpayers to fund religious schools. (Credit: YouTube / screengrab)

The right wing Supreme Court claiming anti Catholic discrimination bids to ram through dilution of the Blaine Amendments which will allow public tax dollars to go to religious schools.

You can read their case here as forwarded by Institute of Justice writer Nick Sibilla. Does his religious orientation favor tax money to religious schools? You decide.

The brunt of his attack is on the Blaine Amendments which 37 states have as a guard against such funding.

He writes,

The Blaine Amendment is named after and inspired by Congressman James Blaine, who sponsored a constitutional amendment in 1876 that would have blocked public funding for schools “under the control of any religious sect,” mainly as way to advance his presidential ambitions. His amendment ultimately failed in the U.S. Senate. But beginning in 1889, Congress required potential states to enshrine Blaine Amendments in their state constitutions as a condition of statehood. Today, Blaine Amendments are on the books in 37 states.

Although Blaine Amendments appear neutral and secular, they were mainly motivated by prejudice. As Justice Brett Kavanaugh noted during oral argument, Blaine Amendments were “certainly rooted in grotesque religious bigotry against Catholics. That was the clear motivation.” Later on, Justice Samuel Alito mocked the idea that Blaine Amendments had “nothing to do with discrimination based on religion” and “popped up…coincidentally, in the 1840s, at the time of the Irish potato famine.”

After the American War for Independence, the Catholic population was minuscule, with roughly 30,000 adherents nationwide. But following waves of immigration, 1.6 million Catholics were living in the country by 1850. Fifty years later, the U.S. Catholic population topped 12 million. In turn, the nation’s growing number of Catholics faced growing hostility.

Of course the clear Catholic bias of the present Supreme Court is well established so its final decision to ignore the Blaine Amendments appears likely.

Looks like the swing vote may well be the Catholic Chief Justice. But other voices on the Court fear dilution of those Amendments.

The best antidote for this attempted religious invasion of the public purse for religious school funding comes from a letter in the Wall Street Journal whose earlier editorial favored killing Blaine Amendments. It bears repeating in full here.

Regarding your editorial “The Last Gasp of James G. Blaine?” (Jan. 21): I’m not interested in shilling for my ancestor, but the attack on the Blaine Amendments has been around for quite a while, almost always as part of an effort to undermine public education. These days a new definition of “religious liberty” has become code for its own kind of bigotry.

I don’t doubt that the politics of nativism played a role when the Blaine Amendment was first proposed (in an 1875 speech by President Ulysses Grant), but it’s worth noting that Blaine’s mother was a Catholic, as were his sisters. (In those days it was customary for the children of “mixed marriages” to take the religion of their gender parent, so Blaine was brought up a Presbyterian, his sisters as Catholics.) Moreover, the decade of the 1870s actually saw a slight decline in the percentage of immigrants to a country that was far more focused on rolling back the rights of the recently freed slaves.

Although you refer twice to Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer (2017), you take no note of Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent, which was joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “This case is about nothing less than the relationship between religious institutions and the civil government—that is, between church and state. The Court today profoundly changes that relationship by holding, for the first time, that the Constitution requires the government to provide public funds directly to a church. Its decision slights both our precedents and our history, and its reasoning weakens this country’s longstanding commitment to a separation of church and state beneficial to both.”

James G. Blaine
Northeast Harbor, Maine

So now we will bet to see if these conservative Supreme Court appointments swing us dangerously to the right despite the successful longevity of Mr. Blaine’s Amendments.

Worse will this just be another sad page in right wing prejudice that gave us Citizens United that made mockery of campaign funding for large corporate donors? Or the chance that Roe vs Wade be next on their hit list?

Former US Navy officer, banker and venture capitalist, Donald A. Collins, a free lance writer living in Washington, DC., has spent over 40 years working for women’s reproductive health as a board member and/or officer of numerous family planning organizations including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Guttmacher Institute, Family Health International and Ipas. Yale under graduate, NYU MBA. He is the author of From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013.

From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013

By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
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