As S.C. Catholics challenge state’s Blaine Amendment, scholars argue it was ‘born of bigotry’

By | May 23, 2021

By Kevin J. Jones

Washington D.C., May 23, 2021 / 14:57 pm
Catholics and others challenging South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment are right to argue that the amendment was “born of bigotry and prejudice, based on race and religion,” two scholars say. 
The state’s Blaine Amendment – a constitutional ban on public funds for private religious schools – was enacted amid efforts by those schools to educate freed slaves and Catholic immigrants, said University of Notre Dame law professor Nicole Stelle Garnett and Daniel T. Judge, a student fellow at Notre Dame Law School’s Religious Liberty Initiative, in a May 20 essay.
Currently, the Catholic Diocese of Charleston and an association of colleges that includes several historically Black colleges are challenging South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment in court. They charge that it unlawfully shut off Catholic and other schools from critical relief funds during the coronavirus pandemic. 
“The plaintiffs should prevail. It is time to end the shame of Blaine,” Garnett and Judge wrote in a May 20 essay for Real Clear Policy. 
The Blaine Amendment dates back to 1875, when U.S. Rep. James Blaine, a Maine Republican, proposed a constitutional amendment to ban public funding of “sectarian” schools, often run by or for Catholic immigrants. Blaine’s federal amendment failed, but it inspired similar amendments to many state constitutions and was added to South Carolina’s constitution in 1895.
“The Blaine Amendment advanced the goal of disenfranchisement because, in the decades following the Civil War, missionaries from many faith traditions, including some that founded the institutions operated by the plaintiffs in the case, came to South Carolina with the express purpose of educating freed slaves,” Garnett and Judge said. 
“By blocking public support for these admirable institutions, the law inhibited religious missionaries from helping freed slaves and Catholic immigrants receive the education opportunities they needed to qualify to vote,” they wrote. 
Blaine Amendments, in the view of Garnett and Judge, were also “a blatant attempt to decrease the influence of Catholic immigrants throughout the United States.”