Paving the Way for School Choice By Curbing Discrimination

December 1, 2002

December 2002

Paving the Way for School Choice By Curbing Discrimination

By Clint Bolick

The Institute for Justice launched its opening salvo to prepare the way for school choice with a lawsuit challenging Washington state’s policy forbidding public university students from student-teaching in religious schools. The lawsuit marks the first in a series of suits challenging the Blaine Amendments.

The policy emanates from the State’s interpretation of its Blaine Amendment, which forbids appropriations in support of religious schools. Blaine Amendments are present in 37 states. If broadly construed, they present a serious obstacle to school choice programs. IJ seeks a broad precedent from the U.S. Supreme Court holding that under the First Amendment and its command of government neutrality toward religion, states cannot discriminate against religious educational options.

IJ represents Carolyn Harrison and Donnell Pennhallurick, two students at public universities who would like to complete their practical experience requirements at religious schools. Pennhallurick is a Seventh-day Adventist who wants to student-teach at a school of her faith. Harrison teaches at a Catholic school and was forbidden from completing her internship requirements for an administration degree at her own school, like public and secular private school teachers are allowed to do.

The case was filed in state court to provide an opportunity to harmonize state law with the federal Constitution. If the state courts fail to do so, the case can be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. IJ is scrutinizing discriminatory policies in other states for similar test cases.

The Blaine Amendments trace back to the anti-immigrant movement of the late 1800s, which led states to forbid state assistance to “sectarian” (i.e., Catholic) schools. Some states, such as Washington, were forced to adopt Blaine Amendments as a condition of admission into the union.

The student-teaching litigation is IJ’s first lawsuit in Washington, where IJ plans to open a state chapter next year. The discriminatory policy is at odds with the Evergreen State’s tradition of tolerance. Until the power of states to discriminate in this fashion is curtailed, efforts to expand educational opportunities through school choice face an uncertain future.uClint Bolick is IJ’s vice president and national director of state chapters.

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