Center Square

Federal Lawsuit Seeks to Remove Blaine Amendment from South Carolina Constitution

April 14, 2021

(The Center Square) – A federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a group of religious schools and independent colleges in South Carolina takes aim at the state constitution’s Blaine Amendment.

South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment says no public money can be used for the direct benefit of any religious or private school. Thirty-seven states have similar provisions, which date back to the 1800s, in their constitutions.

South Carolina amended its Blaine Amendment in 1973 to eliminate the ban on “indirect” funding of private schools.

The lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday, argues the amendment discriminates against Black residents and Catholics by withholding education funding from nonpublic schools in South Carolina and has been used to keep COVID-19 relief from private, independent and religious schools, including historically black colleges and universities.

According to the lawsuit, the amendment is “born of bigotry and prejudice, based on race and religion.”

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities are the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which names South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams and Department of Administration Budget Director Brian Gaines as defendants.

The lawsuit says McMaster and the Department of Administration have been unable to provide federal COVID-19 relief to South Carolina’s private, independent and religious schools because of the Blaine Amendment.

McMaster created the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) grant program in July to provide one-time, need-based grants of up to $6,500 to eligible mid- to low-income students attending private or independent schools in South Carolina with federal COVID-19 relief money.

The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, ruled the program unconstitutional in October based on the Blaine Amendment.

“Governor McMaster believes that private, parochial and independent schools provide many working or low-income parents the option to choose the type of education environment and instruction that best suits their child’s unique needs. Even in the best of economies, many of these parents struggle to scrape together enough money to pay their child’s tuition,” governor’s office Communications Director Brian Symmes said Wednesday after the lawsuit was filed. “Nobody fought the SAFE grants lawsuit more vigorously than the governor did, and he still believes it was incorrectly decided. 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 at The Center Square.