Federal lawsuit challenges portion of SC Constitution that bars private schools from public money – Greenville News

April 14, 2021

In Bishop of Charleston v. Adams, the Liberty Justice Center seeks to prevent South Carolina officials from using a long-standing discriminatory law to deny independent and religious schools access to federal COVID relief funds.

The following article by Ariel Gilreath appeared on April 14, 2021 on Greenville News.

A group of private school organizations are filing a federal lawsuit challenging a portion of South Carolina’s state Constitution that says public funds cannot be used directly for private or religious entities.

The Liberty Justice Center announced the lawsuit on Wednesday, which opposes a section in Article XI of the state constitution commonly referred to as the Blaine Amendment. The lawsuit is being filed in federal court in Charleston.

Daniel Suhr, an attorney with the Liberty Justice Center law firm, said the suit was spurred by a failed attempt by Gov. Henry McMaster to provide private schools with coronavirus aid money.

The state Supreme Court rejected the use of the funds for private schools twice.

Suhr and several speakers at Wednesday’s announcement compared the Blaine Amendment to former South Carolina Gov. Ben Tillman’s racist ideologies. Suhr said the amendment was initially introduced to the state’s Constitution to prevent Catholic schools from receiving state funds because of anti-Catholic sentiments during a time of heightened Catholic immigration, but Suhr said the amendment also prevents Historically Black colleges and private schools from receiving the funds.

“It is high time we strike this bigoted, racist law from our state constitution,” Suhr said.

The lawsuit was announced at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School, a private and predominantly minority K-12 school in Greenville.

Suhr said the intent of the lawsuit is to allow private schools in the state the ability to receive public funds. He said it would be up to policy-makers to decide if private schools should then be held to the same standards and rules as public schools.

The lawsuit is being filed by the Bishop of Charleston and South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities. They are being represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a Chicago-based law firm.

Twenty private higher education institutions in the state are members of the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities organization. The Bishop of Charleston oversees the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and 33 K-12 Catholic schools in South Carolina.

The Blaine Amendment was first introduced by Maine Rep. James G. Blaine as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1875, but it ultimately failed to pass. More than two dozen states ended up passing the amendment to their own state constitutions. 

South Carolina amended this portion of its Constitution again in 1973, which previously said public funds could not be used in a direct or “indirect” manner for private entities. Now, the sections says the funds cannot be used “for the direct benefit” of private or religious entities.

Read the full article on Greenville News.