THE BANE OF BLAINE FELL MAINLY ON THE PLAINS-and spread from there to dominate the national debate over church-state relations today. In 1875, James G. Blaine-Speaker of the House and presidential hopeful-introduced a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited state funding to "sectarian" schools, understood in the dominant Protestant culture of the time to mean Catholic schools (see WORLD, Aug. 24, 2002).
The amendment to the U.S. Constitution narrowly failed, but many states adopted similar provisions in their own constitutions, and Congress required such constitutional language of others as a condition of joining the Union. Today these "Blaine amendments," in effect in 39 states, pose a significant obstacle to enacting parental choice in education. But the U.S. Supreme Court could change that as it considers a Washington state case this term.
The case, Locke vs. Davey, concerns student Joshua Davey, who used a state-subsidized scholarship to attend a Christian college and major in theology. In the fall of 1999, the Washington scholarship board notified Mr. Davey that theology students were ineligible to receive the scholarship, citing Blaine amendment language in the state constitution. Such action "facially discriminates on the basis of religion," determined the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in ruling for Mr. Davey. Now the state of Washington has appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, essentially requesting a review of Blaine amendments.