A Public Funding Ban for Private Colleges ‘Born in Bigotry’? – Inside Higher Ed

April 16, 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 Elizabeth Redden appeared on April 16, 2021 on Inside Higher Ed.

A lawsuit filed in federal district court argues that a provision of the South Carolina state constitution that bars public funds from being used for the “direct benefit” of religious or other private educational institutions should be struck down because it was born out of racist and anti-Catholic animus.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this week, argues that the amendment, which dates to 1895 and was revised in 1972, was “born in bigotry.” It argues the amendment “reflected the ugly marriage of two prejudices: religious bigotry against immigrant Catholics then coming to America’s shores and racial prejudice against newly freed slaves whose lives, living conditions, and educational opportunities were being improved by religious missionary organizations.”

South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, an association that represents 20 private colleges and universities, joined with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which operates 33 K-12 schools, in challenging what’s known as the Blaine Amendment. The colleges contend that the amendment has caused them to lose out on millions of dollars in federal coronavirus relief funds that were funneled through the state government for distribution.

Jeff Perez, president and CEO of South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, or SCICU, estimates that the provision has made the state’s private colleges miss out on more than $14 million in federal coronavirus relief funding that was routed through the state government, including $2.4 million that would have been allocated specifically for five private historically Black colleges to upgrade their online education offerings.

“What we’re looking to do is to strike this provision, because No. 1, it’s the right thing to do — it’s wrong to have this kind of racist and antireligious provision in our constitution,” Perez said. “And No. 2, its legacy is to deprive institutions that are members of my organization from receiving the funding that Congress, that our governor and the General Assembly intended us to receive.”

The colleges and Catholic schools are being represented in the lawsuit by the Liberty Justice Center, a conservative, nonprofit law organization. The suit names several South Carolina officials as defendants, including Governor Henry McMaster, a Republican. The state Supreme Court struck down McMaster’s attempts last year to use $32 million in federal COVID relief funds to create one-time grants, known as SAFE grants, to assist families with tuition costs at private schools.

“Nobody fought the SAFE grants lawsuit more vigorously than the governor did, and he still believes it was incorrectly decided,” said Brian Symmes, a spokesman for the governor. “Every step of the way, the governor warned that the lawsuit could have far-reaching consequences and unnecessarily prevent these schools and parents from accessing emergency federal funds.”

Read the full article on Inside Higher Ed.