Liberty Justice Center

Law With Racist, Bigoted Past Used to Block Funds Earmarked for Independent and Historically Black Schools

April 30, 2021

(Liberty Justice Center)—“Blaine Amendments” remain in state constitutions, even after SCOTUS ruled against them

In South Carolina and across the nation, provisions called “Blaine Amendments” were put in place to discriminate against a wave of Catholic immigrants in the mid-1800s and against Protestant missionaries who traveled to the South to educate newly freed slaves.

In many states, these laws still stand today.

These “Blaine Amendments,” are named after House Speaker James Blaine, who introduced the idea to the U.S. Congress in 1875. When his effort failed at the federal level nearly 150 years ago, many states decided to simply put the prohibition into their state constitutions, keeping public funds from religious and independent schools and their students for the past several generations.

If anything should be “canceled” on the basis of the racist and bigoted history, it’s these Blaine Amendments.

But don’t just take our word for it – the U.S. Supreme Court already affirmed in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue that a similarly prohibitive provision that specifically targeted religious schools was unconstitutional.

Despite this, Blaine Amendments like the one in South Carolina are still passing under the radar.

The result: an unconstitutional law is keeping thousands of families and students from the critical school funding that could change their learning, and life, outcomes.

In The Bishop of Charleston v. Adams, Liberty Justice Center attorneys are representing a coalition of more than 50 schools and universities in South Carolina as they fight to restore their eligibility for federal COVID relief funds for education. 

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston oversees 33 K-12 schools in South Carolina. 

South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities (SCICU), is a nonprofit that represents 20 of the state’s private universities and colleges. Its membership includes five Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

“This lawsuit seeks educational equality for all,” said Dr. Jeff Perez, president and CEO of SCICU. “Our students are committed to completing their degrees in a significantly challenging time. We should be doing all we can to support them, not relying on outdated, divisive language evoking a dark period in our history to deny those seeking educational opportunity.”

Perhaps one of the greatest ironies of the situation in South Carolina is that, during the past academic year, these schools were often the only option for many students.

Many private and faith-based schools were the only institutions still teaching their students in-person while public schools were either closed or offering debatably effective virtual classes. 

With public schools around the country continuing to delay full-day, 5-day-a-week school openings, one has to wonder why so much effort is being put into blocking funds from helping students attend schools open safely during COVID.

And why do otherwise “woke” opponents of school choice have no problem leaning on bigoted and racist laws to do so?