RFI Issues Open Letter Opposing the Blaine Amendments, Urging the Supreme Court to Rule Them Unconstitutional

January 24, 2020

In an open letter issued today, Rev. Dr. Andrew P.W. Bennett, Director of RFI’s North America Action Team, expresses opposition to the anti-religious Blaine Amendments that were enacted in the late 19th century, and which remain in effect in 40 states. He also urges the U.S. Supreme Court to put an end to these amendments once and for all when it rules later this year in Espinoza v. Montana. The Court heard oral arguments in this case on January 22, 2020.

In the letter, Dr. Bennett writes: 

People with deep and abiding differences over religion, politics, law, and culture – including the role of religion in American public life, and the proper interpretation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment – can and often do still share a reverence for religious freedom. Guaranteed to every American by the U.S. Constitution, religious freedom is a fundamental right and deeply rooted in the American tradition.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on January 22 concerning the constitutionality of the Blaine Amendments and will soon have the opportunity to strike down these shameful remnants of anti-religious and anti-immigrant bigotry.

The Blaine Amendments were enacted during the late 19th century in hostile reaction to the immigration of Roman Catholics to our shores. In an attempt to isolate and discourage Catholic immigrants, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed overwhelmingly a Constitutional amendment banning government aid to Catholic schools. Fortunately, the Democrat-controlled Senate defeated the amendment.

Read the full open letter.

In an article published recently in RealClearReligion, RFI Communications Director Nathan Berkeley and David Benger, J.D. candidate at Harvard Law School, make a similar argument while also referencing the open letter. In the article, entitled, “The Supreme Court Must End an Injustice to Religious Education,” they write:

Denying generally available public funds to religious schools solely on account of their religion frustrates the right of people like Kendra Espinoza to educate their children the way they see fit.

The Blaine Amendments enable governments to discriminate based on religion, which violates the letter and spirit of the American constitutional tradition.