Challenge Continues to Massachusetts Blaine Amendment

Published November 1, 2004

The Massachusetts Constitution not only contains an 1800s-era Blaine Amendment–an “Anti-Aid Amendment” barring any portion of the common school fund from going to “sectarian” schools–it also contains a 1917 “Religious Exclusion” amendment that bars the use of initiative and referendum procedures to amend the Anti-Aid Amendment.

On behalf of a group of Massachusetts citizens, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed a lawsuit challenging these discriminatory provisions on March 3, 1998. After a series of petitions, judges’ orders, motions, and cross-motions, the federal district court in Boston granted summary judgement for the defendants on April 1, 2004. On July 6, 2004, the Becket Fund appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The Becket Fund brief contends the Anti-Aid Amendment and Religious Exclusion violate the plaintiffs’ rights to free speech, free exercise of religion, and equal protection. The brief argues the plaintiffs are excluded–solely on the basis of their religious beliefs–from using an initiative process that all citizens are otherwise entitled to use.