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  • Blaine Introduction
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Blaine Amendments are provisions in dozens of state constitutions that prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools. Blaine Amendments are named after James G. Blaine, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who proposed such an amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. The amendment passed overwhelmingly (180-7) in the House, but failed (by 4 votes) in the Senate. Although the amendment failed narrowly, state-level versions were wildly successful. And in several states, adoption of Blaine Amendments was made an explicit condition for entering the Union.

James G. Blaine had a long and varied career as a lawyer, teacher, journalist and most notably, as a politician. He was born in Pennsylvania in 1830, and did not move to Maine until 1854. For next five years, he worked as a newspaper editor and was a leader in the formation of the Republican party in Maine. Although he was a member of the Maine legislature for only four years (1859-1863), he served the last two of them as speaker of the state house of representatives.

He won election to the U.S. House of Representatives, and served there from March 4, 1863 until July 10, 1876, when he resigned. He was Speaker of the House from 1869 to 1875, and it was during this period that he authored the proposed “Blaine Amendment” to the U.S. Constitution.

Blaine ran for president three times, in 1876, 1880 and 1884. In the 1876 contest, he was considered the logical choice for the Republican nomination, but shortly before the nominating convention began, a House investigating committee accused him of using his position as speaker to get a land grant for a railroad in Arkansas and then sell the railroad’s bonds at a tidy profit. Blaine lost the nomination to Rutherford B. Hayes, on a narrow convention vote of 379-351. He was named to the U.S. Senate in 1876. He sought the Republican presidential nomination again in 1880, but lost to James A. Garfield, who won the general election and appointed Blaine Secretary of State. When Garfield was assassinated, Blaine resigned and retired briefly to private life.

In 1884, he finally won the Republican presidential nomination (on the convention’s fourth ballot). The general election contest was very close, and was decided by New York, where Blaine lost by 1,047 votes. During the campaign, Blaine listened impassively at a New York rally at which Rev. Samuel Buchard, a Presbyterian minister, derided Democrats as “the party whose antecedents are rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” The slur angered the large number of Irish Catholic voters in the state, and when Blaine declined to disavow Buchard’s remarks, his chances of winning the state slipped away.

Blaine had been expected to seek the Republican nomination again in 1888, but surprised everyone by supporting Benjamin Harrison for the job instead. When Harrison won, he once again appointed Blaine Secretary of State. Three days before the 1892 convention, Blaine resigned from the State Department and sought the Republican nomination a final time. But Harrison was renominated, and Blaine died the following year.

Blaine’s official portrait as Secretary of State

If you are interested in learning more about James G. Blaine, the U.S. House of Representatives website offers an additional biography of Blaine and a bibliography of books written about Blaine.

Links to organizations concerned with the Blaine Amendment debate

News Articles

oth specialty news media and general audience news media have begun to pay considerable interest to Blaine Amendments and their importance in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. Following is a list of recently published news articles of which we’re aware. If the full article is available on-line without cost, the full link is given. Where articles must be accessed for a fee using the newspaper’s search engine, only the link to the paper’s home page is provided. If you know of a news article on the subject that is not listed here, please contact the webmaster.

Groups Ready to Rally in Capital, by Jennifer Booth Reed, News-Press, June 7, 2005 (shows facts and history of FL vouchers)

Governor’s Legacy in Hands of High Court, by Joe Follick, The Herald Tribune, May 30, 2005

Georgia Parents Sue for Vouchers, by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, March 1, 2005

Analysis: More School Vouchers Planned, by Les Kios, Washington Times, February 23, 2005

Florida Hands Legal Setback to School Plan, by Jacob Gershman, New York Sun, August 17, 2004

  • When a Win May Not Mean Much; Church & State; Ruling Denying State Scholarship Aid to Divinity Student, The Humanist, May 1, 2004
  • States Can Ban Scholarships for Theology; Rehnquist Leads 7-Vote Majority in Washington State Case That Some See as Setback for School Voucher Proponents, by Tony Mauro, Legal Times, March 1, 2004
  • Justices Say States May Deny Theology Scholarship Funds, by Mike McKee, The Legal Intelligencer, February 27, 2004
  • State Aid for Divinity Study Not Required, Court Rules, by Tony Mauro, The Recorder, February 26, 2004

Court Rules States Can Deny Scholarships to Divinity Students, by Stephen Henderson, Knight Ridder Washington Bureau, February 26, 2004

  • Senator at Root of Battle on Church-State Funding; Many States Adopted ‘Blaine Amendment’ After His Efforts for National Law Failed in Senate, by Dave Williams, Florida Times-Union, February 9, 2004
  • Perdue Touts Faith-Based Initiatives, by Nancy Badertscher, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December 7, 2003

Colorado’s New Voucher Law Is Struck Down in State Court, by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, December 4, 2003

  • The Court and Religious Liberty, by E.J. Dionne Jr., Chattanooga Times Free Press, December 4, 2003

Court Hears Debate on State Ban of Funds for Ministerial Student, by Tom Strode, Baptist Press, December 3, 2003

Washington State Court Case Could Affect School Choice Issue, by Scott Stephens, Plain Dealer, December 2, 2003

Group Sues State Over School Busing, Rapid City Journal, April 25, 2003

School Voucher Supporters Take Their Mission to Court–A Successful Effort Could Boost President’s Faith-Based Initiatives, by Barbara C. Neff; Newark Star-Ledger, February 23, 2003

  • Proponents of Vouchers See Opening, by Mary Leonard, Boston Globe, November 18, 2002

Families challenge Maine’s refusal to pay tuition at religious schools, by the Associated Press; posted on the Freedom Forum website, September 19, 2002

Veni, Vidi, Vouchers: Why the battle for school vouchers isn’t over, by Avi Schick; Slate, September 17, 2002

Voucher backers embrace doctrine; Little-known tenet supports position, advocates argue, by Jan Murphy; The Patriot-News (Harrisburg, PA), August 25, 2002 (articles in this paper archived on-line for only 14 days)

Anti-voucher state laws rooted in anti-Catholic bigotry, some say, by Robert Marus; Associated Baptist Press, August 19, 2002

States are new arena in voucher showdown; Laws may conflict with court ruling, by Jan Crawford Greenburg; The Chicago Tribune, August 9, 2002 (discusses how pro-voucher lawsuits will argue that Blaine Amendments are so restrictive of religious expression that they violate the federal Constitution)

Florida Voucher Decision Could Be Reversed On Constitutional Grounds, by Christine Hall;, August 7, 2002

State Constitutions Are Next Hurdles in Vouchers Fight, by Holly Lebowitz Rossi; Religion News Service, August 7, 2002

Voucher Advocates Plan Next Push to High Court, by Tony Mauro; Legal Times, as published on the web by, August 5, 2002

Court Ruling Buoys Yeshiva Voucher Bids Aguda Meets With Allies in Illinois, by Nacha Cattan; Forward, July 5, 2002

In States, Hurdles Loom, by Laurie Goodstein; The New York Times, June 30, 2002 (registration required)

Private School Aid Efforts Will Face State Challenges; Legal Barriers Likely to Impede Use of Funds, by Mary Leonard; The Boston Globe, June 28, 2002

Court Decision Bolsters Those Battling Anti-Voucher Amendment, by Steve Leblanc; The Boston Globe, June 27, 2002 (discusses the fate of Massachusetts’ Anti-Aid Amendment in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Zelman decision)

  • Missouri Law Drives Up Cost of Delivering Federal Programs to Private Schools; St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 2, 2000

Opinion and Analysis

ollowing is a list of recently published opinion and analysis pieces, as well as book reviews. If you know of an opinion piece on the subject that is not listed here, please contact the webmaster.

Major Publications:

Judicial Clouds in the Sunshine State, by Clint Bolick, Opinion Journal, June 16, 2005

Questioning State Aid for Students at Private Colleges, by Lisa Snell, June 3, 2005

Why Stop Decades Of School Choice Now?, by Clark Neily, Tampa Tribune, January 18, 2005

  • Blaine in Florida, The New York Sun, August 17, 2004

The Empire Strikes Back, Opinion Journal, March 25, 2004

Supreme Court Made the Right Call; Beliefs, by Cary McMullen, The Ledger, March 6, 2004

School Vouchers Intact and Deserve Attention, Star Bulletin, February 29, 2004

Court’s Decision Misguided, The Daily News Leader, February 29, 2004

Misplaced Passion; Supreme Court’s Scholarship Decision Erodes Religious Freedom, by David C. Steinmetz, Orlando Sentinel, February 28, 2004

Compromise Would Satisfy All in Faith-Based Debate, by Michael J. Broyde, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, February 11, 2004

Court Won’t Deliver Goods in Scholarship Case, by Marie Gryphon, CATO, January 16, 2004

  • Blaine Amendments Have Harmed America’s Education System, by Bill Donahue, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, December 9, 2003

The Blaine Game, Opinion Journal, December 7, 2003

A bad way to kill vouchers; editorial, The Denver Post, May 22, 2003

Historic Moment for School Choice; Opponents Must Rely on an Unsavory Amendment; editorial, Rocky Mountain News, April 17, 2003

Cleanup Time; editorial, Florida Times Union, February 4, 2003

School Choice: The Ugly Opposition, by George F. Will; The Washington Post, November 12, 2002

Free kids from failing schools – Let’s put aside the vestiges of bigotry and allow vouchers – and children – a chance, by David L. Brennan; op-ed published in The Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), September 3, 2002

Catholic schools need no shackles; Government vouchers come with strings, by Thomas Roeser; op-ed published in the Chicago Sun-Times, August 31, 2002

Breaking through Blaine’s roadblock, by Marvin Olasky; World Magazine, August 24, 2002 (opposes Blaine Amendments, includes a fairly detailed history of their origins)

Retrograde on School Choice, by Nathan J. Diament; op-ed column published in The Washington Post, August 22, 2002 (opposes Blaine Amendments as a barrier to school choice)

Dredging Up Ugliness in the Name of Vouchers, by K. Hollyn Hollman; letter to the editor published in The Washington Post, August 31, 2002 (favors Blaine Amendments, response to 8/22 Nathan Diament op-ed)

Florida Anti-Voucher Court Ruling Gives Lesson in ‘Three R’s’, by Frank A. Shepard and Harold E. Johnson; The Tampa Tribune, August 18, 2002

Vouchers – Florida Ruling; editorial, The Cincinnati Enquirer, August 8, 2002

The Next Voucher Battleground; editorial, The Wall Street Journal, August 7, 2002

Blaine Is Slain: School choice passes a second constitutional test, by Pete Du Pont; The Wall Street Journal, July 31, 2002

Breaking Up a Monopoly; editorial, Christianity Today, July 29, 2002

Dump Bigoted Blaine Language; editorial, Rocky Mountain News, July 28, 2002 (fee charged for full article) (argues against state constitutional barriers to school choice in the wake of Zelman decision)

The School Choice Fallout; editorial, The Wall Street Journal, July 24, 2002 (discusses implications of 9th Circuit Davey v. Locke decision)

Voucher Ruling is Key in Our Push to Improve Education, by Matthew Carolan and Raymond J. Keating; Newsday, July 9, 2002

One Small Step: Big challenges still lie ahead for school-choice proponents, by Thomas J. Bray, The Wall Street Journal, July 2, 2002

Vouchers unleashed, by Ruben Navarrette, Jr.; Washington Post Writers Group, date uncertain

The Right Thing; Why Liberals Should be Pro-Choice, by Diane Ravitch; The New Republic, October 8, 2001 (includes a brief history of Blaine Amendments and the anti-Catholic bigotry motivating them)

Court rights wrong term in school ruling, by Larry Witham; The Washington Times, July 2, 2000

Revenge of the Know-Nothings; editorial, The Wall Street Journal, May 23, 2000

Yes, Vouchers are Constitutional, by Richard E. Morgan; City Journal, August 1998 (argues that strict separationism is at odds with the legal and constitutional understanding held throughout most of American history)

Website Postings:

Religious Prejudice Caused Church and State Separation; posted on the University of Virginia School of Law website on September 19, 2002 (summary of lecture given by Law School Dean John C. Jeffries Jr.)

Blaine Amendments Under Attack – At Last!, by David W. Kirkpatrick; posted on website, September, 2002

Please Don’t Blaine Us Again, by Alan E. Sears; posted on, date uncertain (President of Alliance Defense Fund decries Florida ruling in Holmes v. Bush–which declared vouchers unconstitutional–as well as the state Blaine Amendment which served as the basis for the ruling)

Bigotry – A Threat to Parental Choice, by Phillip W. De Vous; posted on the Acton Institute website, August 7, 2002

An Epochal Victory for Kids, by Sol Stern; posted on the City Journal website, June 28, 2002

The Pain of Blaine (Amendments) Is On the Wane?, by David W. Kirkpatrick; posted on website, May 1, 2002 (provides background information on Blaine Amendments)

The Bigotry of ‘Blaine Amendments’, by David W. Kirkpatrick; posted on the website, April 24, 2002 (discusses Blaine and the origins of the modern public school system

Book Reviews:

Getting over the Wall, by Robert Bork; The Public Interest, Fall 2002 (posted on the University of Chicago Law School website) (review of Separation of Church and State, by Philip Hamburger)

Church, state ‘wall’ not idea of Jefferson: Fear of Catholics by justice cited, by Larry Witham; The Washington Times, August 5, 2002 (fee charged for full article) (article about Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State, by Daniel L. Dreisbach)

Evolution of Words That Aren’t There, by Peter Steinfels; The New York Times, 7/6/02 (article about Separation of Church and State, by Philip Hamburger)

Order: Most Recent A-Z

Christ Church New Jersey et al v. Rockaway Township

The Becket Fund helps a church in New Jersey secure land that was rightfully theirs.
Court: U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey
State: New Jersey
Issue: Property Rights
Role: Amicus
View Case

Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District, Massachusetts, 2011-2014

The Pledge of Allegiance is under fire yet again in Massachusetts and the Becket Fund steps in for its defense.
Court: Massachusetts Supreme Court
State: Massachusetts
Issue: Public Square
Role: Counsel
View Case

Freedom from Religion Foundation v. Hanover School District, New Hampshire, 2007-2011

"under God" defended again by the Becket Fund, this time in New Hampshire.
Court: First Circuit Court of Appeals
State: New Hampshire
Issue: Public Square
Role: Counsel
View Case

Newdow v. Rio Linda Union School District, California, 2005-2010

The Becket Fund defends the Pledge of Allegiance for the second time in California
Court: U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit
State: California
Issue: Public Square
Role: Counsel
View Case

Freedom From Religion Foundation v. Koskinen – Holy Cross Anglican Church (2013-2014)

The Becket Fund intervened in a lawsuit against the IRS to defend an Anglican priest and his church’s right to preach free from IRS censorship.
Court: W.D. Wisconsin
State: Wisconsin
Issue: Free Speech
Role: Counsel
View Case

Town of Greece v. Galloway

A New York town is fighting to defend its historic practice of interfaith legislative prayer.
Court: Supreme Court
State: New York
Issue: Public Square
Role: Amicus
View Case

ACLU of New Jersey v. Schundler (1995-1999)

The ACLU filed suit claiming that a town's diverse holiday display of a menorah, tree, and crèche were unconstitutional.
Court: 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals
State: New Jersey
Issue: Public Square
Role: Counsel
View Case

Smith v. Haley (2006-2008)

The Becket Fund stepped in to defend an Odinist prisoner's right to assert his religious freedom through the judicial system.
Court: Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals
State: Alabama
Role: Counsel
View Case

ACLU of New Jersey v. Township of Wall (1999-2001)

The ACLU sued a town for its celebrating the Christmas and Hannukah season with a set of diverse holiday displays.
Court: Trials and Appeals Courts
State: New Jersey
Issue: Public Square
Role: Counsel
View Case

Atheists of Florida v. City of Lakeland (2012-2013)

The Atheists of Florida hauled a city into court for opening their town meetings with prayers led by diverse religious groups.
Court: 11th Circuit Court of Appeals
State: Florida
Issue: Free Speech
Role: Amicus
View Case

Recent federal court decisions have acknowledged that Blaine Amendments are rooted in nativist bigotry, and recent state court decisions have interpreted Blaine Amendments narrowly to avoid constitutional violation. Additional cases are pending, and more are on the way. This page will be updated periodically to reflect recent developments.

Cases Pending:

Federal Courts:

Pucket v. Rounds, No. 03-CV-5033 (D.S.D., filed March 29, 2004) (challenging decision based on South Dakota Constitution to deny public busing to students because of their affiliation with religious school). Discovery resumed after stay pending November 2004 election.

Boyette v. Galvin, 311 F. Supp. 2d 237 (D. Mass 2004) (rejecting constitutional challenges to Massachusetts‘ forerunner of Blaine Amendment, and to state prohibition on referenda to repeal Blaine Amendment), on appeal sub nom. Wirzburger v. Galvin, No. 04-1625 (1st Cir., filed May 19, 2004).

State Courts:

Saint Louis University v. Masonic Temple Association, S.W.3d (Mo. 2007), No. SC88075 (Missouri Supreme Court held that the City of St. Louis did not violate the state’s ‘Blaine Amendment’ by providing ‘tax-increment financing’ to Saint Louis University, a Jesuit, Catholic University, to assist in the construction of a 13,000-seat arena to be used for secular purposes such as sporting events and graduation ceremonies. While Article IX, Section 8 of the Missouri Constitution forbids state and local government from financially supporting schools ‘controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever,’ the Supreme Court found that the University does not attempt to ‘indoctrinate the faith’ nor is the University controlled by it.)

Bush v. Holmes, 886 So. 2d 340 (Fla. 1st DCA 2004) (finding that Florida’s statewide school voucher system violates the Florida Blaine Amendment, and rejecting claim that such an interpretation of the Blaine Amendment violates the state constitution), on appeal, Nos. SC04-2323, SC04-2324, SC04-2325 (Fla. S. Ct., filed Dec. 10, 2004).

California Statewide Communities Development Authority v. All Persons Interested in the Matter of the Validity of a Purchase Agreement, 116 Cal. App. 4th 877 (Cal. Ct. App. 2004) (affirming judgment that proposals for the issuance of tax-exempt bonds for the benefit of religious schools had violated Cal. Const. art. XVI, � 5 and where schools were pervasively sectarian, conduit financing had the direct and substantial effect of aiding religion). Granted review by California Supreme Court.


Barnes-Wallace v. Boy Scouts of America, 275 F. Supp. 2d 1259 (S.D. Cal. 2003) (holding a reasonable observer would perceive an advancement of religion as a result of the failure to use a neutral process in selecting lessees for the parklands. Thus, the city’s long-term lease of public parkland to the BSA violated state and federal Establishment Clauses and the state constitution’s No Preference and No Aid Clauses.) Granted review by Ninth Circuit. Other issues proceeding in district court.


Anderson v. Town of Durham, (Me. Super. 2003) (No. Civ.A. CV-02-480) (dismissing case for failure to state a claim. State law requires that municipalities contract with a public school outside the municipality or reimburse those students who choose to attend an approved private school, a public school, or a school approved for tuition purposes in another state. School department claimed request for reimbursement for tuition payments made to private Catholic high school claim was barred by statute which excludes the participation of sectarian schools from the state’s tuition reimbursement program.) Pending before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.


Williams v. Georgia, 2005 WL 2156135 (N.D.Ga. Aug 11, 2005) (NO. 105-CV-0427) (involving Plaintiff parents seeking a voucher remedy of the state for its hindering their fundamental liberty rights as parents to control the education of their children, through a variety of restrictive policies. School system claims that Plaintiff’s request for funds for children to attend either religious or non-sectarian private schools would require the court to act outside the constitutional limitations of its judicial power).

Cases Decided:

United States Supreme Court:

Locke v. Davey, 540 U.S. 712 (2004) (upholding decision based on Washington State Constitution to rescind state college scholarship because student chose to study religion)(‘The amici contend that Washington’s Constitution was born of religious bigotry because it contains a so-called ‘Blaine Amendment,’ which has been linked with anti-Catholicism. . . . [H]owever, the provision in question is not a Blaine Amendment. . . . Accordingly, the Blaine Amendment’s history is simply not before us.’).

Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 536 U.S. 639 (2002) (dissenting opinion of Breyer, J.) (acknowledging that Protestant efforts to maintain religious dominance in public schools ‘played a significant role in creating a movement that sought to amend several state constitutions [often successfully], and to amend the United States Constitution [unsuccessfully] to make certain that government would not help pay for ‘sectarian’ [i.e., Catholic] schooling for children’).

Thirty-seven states have provisions in their constitutions that explicitly bar government aid to so-called “sectarian” schools or institutions. As seven Justices of the current Supreme Court have recognized–along with a growing number of legal academics and historians–the term “sectarian” was code for “Catholic,” and was added to state constitutions in order to enforce the nativist bigotry of the day. Some Blaine Amendments are very restrictive, some are more permissive, whether by their terms or by judicial interpretation. Some were enacted immediately following the failed attempt to attach a Blaine Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1875. Others were adopted during the decades before, when anti-immigrant hatred was still building. Still others became law during the early part of the 20th century, during a resurgence of anti-immigrant sentiment. All pose a potential threat to the adoption of school choice programs, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, which made clear that the federal Constitution permits such aid.

Click on the links below to view each state’s Blaine Amendment and related laws and decisions. Neither the state-specific pages, nor any other part of this website, intends to or actually does provide legal advice.


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