School Choice and State Constitutions’ Religion Clauses

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. SimmonsHarris, only state religion clauses represent a potential constitutional bar to the inclusion of religious options in properly designed school choice programs. The two most significant are compelled support clauses and Blaine Amendments. Both are frequently misinterpreted by state courts as applied to school choice when courts take language intended to prevent the provision of aid to religious institutions and apply it to programs aiding individuals and families. Through a historical analysis of their genesis and a legal analysis of related case law, this article demonstrates why the provisions are misinterpreted. The article concludes with a discussion of implications of the history and case law for contemporary school choice programs, noting that in many states these misinterpretations render tax credit programs the preferable alternative for school choice programs.

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