1AP’s 3 Things to Know — Blaine Amendments

Blaine Amendments are provisions of state constitutions that forbid the use of public money to aid any church or religion. In the late 1800’s, over 30 states passed Blaine Amendments to minimize Catholic participation in public life. Conflicts still arise over whether Blaine Amendments or their applications are constitutional.

  1. Why were Blaine Amendments passed? In response to a wave of Catholic immigration, Congress tried to pass the Blaine Amendment to block funding for Catholic schools. Though the federal legislation failed, over 30 states added Blaine Amendments to their state constitutions; for many, it was necessary to gain statehood.
  2. How are they used now? Most Blaine Amendments forbid direct or indirect spending to aid churches or others religious entities. On its face, that language suggests that sending basic emergency services like police or fire trucks would violate the law. This is clearly ridiculous, and has never been interpreted that way. More often, they are selectively used to exclude faith-based institutions from secular programs unrelated to religious teaching. These have included grants to pave playgrounds, grants for students with disabilities, and grants for preservation of historic buildings. Religious groups are not asking for a head start to compete for these grants, but rather for even footing.
  3. What have the Courts said? The U.S. Supreme Court has acknowledged that Blaine was “born of bigotry.” In June, the Supreme Court ruled 7–2 in favor of Trinity Lutheran Church that is was eligible for Missouri’s playground safety program. The Court held that the government cannot exclude churches and other faith-based organizations from a secular government program simply because of their religious identity. State courts will continue hearing challenges to Blaine Amendments, especially regarding school-choice.