Douglas County School District v. Larue

Image: Douglas County School District v. Larue

In March 2011, Colorado enacted The Choice Scholarship Program to help low-income families send their children to private schools of their choice (some of which were religious).

On June 21, 2011, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and several Colorado organizations and taxpayers in a Denver District Court to stop the scholarship program.  In Douglas County School District v. LaRue, the district court struck down the program, ruling that it violated a nineteenth-century state constitutional provision known as a Blaine Amendment.

Blaine Amendments are provisions in dozens of state constitutions that prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools.  They have an ugly history.  Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, our nation endured a rash of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry. This “Know-Nothing” movement—decried at the time by Abraham Lincoln and in modern times by the U.S. Supreme Court—unleashed a spasm of religious discrimination at war with our traditions of religious liberty.  Its legacy persists to this day in the form of “Blaine Amendments,” which were adopted in numerous state constitutions in the late 1800s and early 1900s and were designed to suppress Catholic schools in favor of Protestant-dominated public schools.

On April 16, 2012, Becket Law filed an amicus brief in the Douglas County School District appeal, shining a spotlight on the Colorado Blaine Amendment’s ugly past and its unconstitutional treatment of children in religious schools who simply wish to be treated the same as children in secular schools.

On February 28, 2013, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the scholarship program. The court wisely avoided relying on the Colorado Blaine Amendment, refusing to invoke its nefarious history.

On June 29, 2015, the Colorado Supreme Court overturned the court of appeals decision, interpreting the Blaine Amendment to prevent scholarships from going to students at any religious schools. Douglas County has said that it is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which would give the Supreme Court the opportunity to right the wrong of religious discrimination still apparent in Colorado’s Blaine Amendment today.

On October 28, 2015, Douglas County appealed to the Supreme Court.

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