Blaine Amendments

Published March 1, 1999

Last year, the Washington, DC-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed suit on behalf of a group of parents in Massachusetts, asking a federal court to strike down the state’s prohibition on aid to religious schools. The lawsuit marked the beginning of a national effort to repeal the so-called “Blaine Amendment” from 38 state constitutions.

Ironically, Massachusetts’s 1854 anti-aid amendment came not from James Blaine, a Republican congressman from Maine, but from the anti-Catholic Know-Nothing Party, which followed up their amendment with a law making the Protestant Bible compulsory reading in all public schools. Blaine himself–also an anti-Catholic–promoted the anti-aid measure as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1875.

Although Blaine’s amendment failed at the federal level, some 38 states adopted “Blaine amendments” in their constitutions. Today, these anti-Catholic provisions often are invoked to frustrate school choice efforts by laying down explicit restrictions on the use of public funds in religious schools.

In Kotterman v. Killian, the Arizona Supreme Court declared that “the “Blaine amendment was a clear manifestation of religious bigotry, part of a crusade manufactured by the contemporary Protestant establishment to counter what was perceived as a growing ‘Catholic menace.'” Even if Arizona’s language were a Blaine amendment, the Court held, “we would be hard pressed to divorce the amendment’s language from the insidious discriminatory intent that prompted it.”