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. For decades, opponents of educational choice have employed Blaine Amendments—found in 37 state constitutions—as blunt weapons to impede and invalidate educational choice programs. However, thanks to a decades-long legal strategy tenaciously pursued by IJ, these obstacles to educational freedom are now largely a dead letter.
The first major blow to Blaine Amendments came in June 2020, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that the federal Constitution forbids states from excluding families and schools from educational choice programs based on their religious status. The U.S. Constitution, wrote Chief Justice Roberts for a majority of the Court, “condemns discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them. They are members of the community too, and their exclusion from [Montana’s] scholarship program here is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.” The Supreme Court’s holding was clear and unambiguous—and it applies to every state: While a “State need not subsidize private education[,] . . . once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”
The second blow to Blaine Amendments came two years later when the Supreme Court ruled in Carson v. Makin that states may not prohibit families that participate in educational choice programs from selecting schools that provide religious instruction. The Court held that such programs must be neutral regarding religion and allow parents to pick the school that works best for their children. Chief Justice Roberts, again writing for the Court’s majority, held that Maine “violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment” when it prohibits parents from choosing religious educational options in a school choice program.
As a result of Espinoza and Carson, policymakers across the country are free to enact programs that will empower parents to choose the educational environment that works best for their own children. Of course, each state has a unique history, context, and constitutional provisions. So IJ produced a 50-state guide analyzing each state’s constitution in light of the Espinoza ruling to explain how it impacts policymakers’ ability to enact educational choice programs.
- The Status of Use-Based Exclusions & Educational Choice After Espinoza
- School Choice and State Constitutions’ Religion Clauses
- 127 Years After His Death, James Blaine Had Another Bad Day
- Low-Income Families Are The True Winners Of The Supreme Court’s Religious Schools Ruling
- A School Choice Landmark