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.
On June 30, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that the federal Constitution forbids states from excluding religious families and schools from educational choice programs through which governments empower families to choose private educational options for their children. 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.”
As a result of Espinoza, state policymakers 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 Espinoza to explain how the ruling impacts policymakers’ ability to enact educational choice programs.
Currently Active Cases:
Maine School Choice III
In the wake of Espinoza, states that discriminate against religious families and schools in the operation of their school choice programs must immediately change their discriminatory policies or face a legal challenge from IJ. Maine operates a town tuitioning system, whereby students who live in towns without their own public schools receive a tuition benefit that they may use to attend the public or private school of their choice—unless the school is religious. Because Maine refuses to alter its statutory scheme excluding religious educational options for students living in tuitioning towns, IJ continues to press its federal lawsuit challenging Maine’s exclusion of religious schools from its town tuitioning system.
Frequently Asked Questions about Blaine Amendments
- 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