Blaine Amendments

Blaine Amendments are controversial state constitutional provisions rooted in 19th century anti-Catholic bigotry.  Their purpose was to prevent the government from funding Catholic schools. Today, however, opponents of school choice employ Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons with which they attempt to block modern school choice programs. In the Trinity Lutheran case, to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on April 19, 2017, Missouri’s Blaine Amendment was used to block a church-run preschool in Missouri from receiving grants available to other schools and nonprofits to purchase playground resurfacing materials.  Trinity Lutheran’s preschool was rejected solely because the preschool was religious.

IJ Trinity Lutheran Release

As explained in this media release, the Institute for Justice filed an amicus (or “friend-of-the-court”) brief in support of Trinity Lutheran, urging the Court to remove Blaine Amendments as an unconstitutional legal roadblock to educational options for parents and children.

IJ Trinity Lutheran Amicus Brief

The Institute for Justice’s “friend-of-the-court” brief defends parental options in education and calls into question the notoriously bigoted Blaine Amendments like the one used to block a religiously affiliated preschool in Missouri from receiving funding open to other schools and nonprofits.

IJ Douglas County Cert Petition

In another important Blaine Amendment case appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Institute for Justice represents families in a case that asks the question, “Does it violate the Religion Clauses or Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution to invalidate a generally available and religiously neutral student aid program simply because the program affords students the choice of attending religious schools?”

Blaine Amendment Map

The notorious Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—were created to block Catholic demands for equal treatment of their schools. The anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic provisions aimed to bar public funding of so-called “sectarian”—understood to mean Catholic—schools or institutions. Since then, many state courts in interpreting their Blaine Amendments have allowed parents to select religious educational options for their children using some form of state assistance.  Almost as many, however, restricted such options.  The remainder provided mixed interpretations or have not interpreted their Blaine Amendments.

Report: School Choice & State Constitutions

School Choice & State Constitutions: A Guide to Designing School Choice Programs is the first comprehensive 50-state guide that examines how school choice programs can be created in almost every state to satisfy both constitutional and other legal concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions about Blaine Amendments

Other Resources

JOIN THE FIGHT!   Sign up for newsletters:

JOIN THE FIGHT!