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Religious Schools Are Fundamental to Liberty

May 11, AD2016

schoolCatholics who are not big on history may probably not be aware of the amount of anti-Catholic animus that existed in the U.S. from the early 1800s up to as late as World War II.  And even though we’ve had a Catholic president and currently have a Catholic Vice President and a Catholic Speaker of the House, there is still a certain amount of anti-Catholic sentiment that exists in what is still a predominantly Protestant country.

It’s somewhat disheartening reading the comments sections after articles about Pope Francis at various on-line magazines and news sites. Comments like “the Catholic Church is the whore of Babylon” or, “Thanks be to God Catholicism and its cadre of slavemakers aren’t the whole of Christendom,” or, “Pope’s are enemies of the Gospel. They don’t speak for JESUS. The Pope’s are worldly minded frauds clothed in religious garments.” are fairly common.  Still, it was worse 150 years ago.

Irish Catholic immigrants to the U.S. bore the brunt of this animus in the mid-1800s when almost one million of them came here fleeing the Great Potato Famine, between 1845 and 1851.  Martin Scorsese’s 2002 movie Gangs of New York brought the animosity between Protestants and Catholics to the big screen through its depiction of the two rival gangs – the Protestant “Natives” and the Irish Catholic “Dead Rabbits.”  

Anti-Catholic Sentiment Peaks

This anti-Catholic sentiment was starting to peak in 1875 when President Ulysses S. Grant called for an end to the use of public funds to support “sectarian schools.”  In 1875 “sectarian” meant “Catholic.”  

Since all public schools throughout the country were essentially Protestant schools run by Protestant administrators and staffed by Protestant teachers (and many superintendents of state departments of education were Protestant clergymen) Grant intended that these Protestant ‘public schools’ would continue to receive public funding but Catholic sectarian (parochial) schools would not.

Acting on behalf of President Grant, James G. Blaine, then Speaker of the House, proposed a Constitutional amendment that would prohibit the use of state funds at “sectarian” schools.  When the amendment passed the House but failed in the Senate by just 4 votes, states began adopting Blaine Amendments in their own state constitutions.  Republican legislators also made sure that any new territories that would become states after 1878 had Blaine amendments in their state constitutions as well.  

The result of all this anti-Catholic sentiment is that today 38 states have some kind of Blaine Amendment in their constitutions.  Only the states of Arkansas, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, North Carolina, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia allow for public funding of K-12 education at other than public schools.  

Unforeseen Consequences

Those anti-Catholic legislators who were so keen on keeping ‘the Papists’ in their place could not have foreseen the eventual results of either their animus or their short-sightedness.  Today, of course, all those Protestant public schools are no longer Protestant, and prayer and any kind of religious formation have been banned in public schools for many years now.  Secularists, Progressives and activist judges have redefined the word sectarian and reframed the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and used it to their own ends even though, as Benjamin Rush, Founding Father and Signer of the Declaration of Independence said “The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this, there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

One can’t help but wonder what Catholic Education in this country might look like today, and even whether or not our Judeo-Christian culture and values would be in such precarious state, but for the Blaine Amendments in so many state constitutions.   

Challenging the Blaine Amendments

On June 1, 2007, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights conducted a briefing in Washington, D.C. in an effort to determine the impact of Blaine Amendments on school choice voucher programs and to:

“. . . address the origins of the original federal Blaine amendment and whether any of the anti-Catholic sentiment behind the original amendment continues to taint the existing amendments or baby Blaines in a manner that renders them unconstitutional or illegal.”

The Commission never rendered an opinion, but the entire 147-page report of the proceedings, which includes the written testimony and a transcript of the meeting, is well worth reading.  On pages 53 and 54 of the report is a list of the states that have Blaine Amendments in their constitutions.

But this year there is a case being heard by the Supreme Court of the United States that could change everything.  The case involves a Lutheran Church and school that is suing the State of Missouri because it was denied a grant for playground resurfacing material.  This case directly challenges the constitutionality of Missouri’s Blaine Amendment.  

The Case is No. 15-577, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc., Petitioner v. Sara Parker Pauley, Director, Missouri Department of Natural Resources.  Trinity Lutheran is suing the State of Missouri because the state refused a grant to the church as part of the state’s Scrap Tire Grant Program, a program set up to award grants for purchasing playground resurfacing material to make playgrounds safer.  


The whole situation is actually loaded with irony.  One irony is that the word sectarian, which originally meant “Catholic,” has been redefined down through the years to now mean “any religion,” something Blaine and his supporters could not have envisioned.  A second irony is that an amendment that was put in place by Protestants to stop Catholic schools from receiving public funding now prevents Protestant schools from receiving public funding as well.  A third irony is that progressives like to say choice is good – but apparently not good when it comes to choosing what school to send your children to.  And finally, progressive secularists like to point to “how things are done in Canada or Europe.”  What they don’t want people to know, however, is that in Canada and in some countries in Europe, Catholic and Protestant schools receive public funding just like the ‘public schools’ do.  

If given a choice between a secular public school and a faith-based school, where children learn about God and moral truths, parents just may prefer to have their children attend the faith-based school.  

How the SCOTUS will rule on Trinity v. Pauley is anyone’s guess, but the untimely death of Justice Antonin Scalia could result in a rare 4-4 tie, which would allow the lower court ruling supporting the Blaine Amendment to stand.  Instead of waiting for the SCOTUS ruling, however, Catholics and Protestants in states with Blaine Amendments in their constitutions should now be coming together to push for ballot initiatives that get rid of these atrocious amendments.

Of course progressives, secularists, and even teachers unions will push back against such efforts with everything they’ve got to make sure state funds only go to public schools.  They will cry “separation of church and state,” even though our Founding Fathers never intended the kind of separation today’s secular progressives demand.  As John Adams famously said, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

More information is available on Blaine Amendments and School Choice at the Cardinal Newman Society website.  Here are links to three recent articles:

Discriminatory Blaine Amendment Used Against Education Savings Accounts in Nevada

January 28, 2016

School Choice Crucial in Making Catholic Education Possible for All Families

January 29, 2016

Rep. Lipinski: Get Rid of Anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments

February 8, 2016

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Gene M. Van Son is retired after spending 35 years in the automobile business working for two of the Big 3 Automakers as a writer and editor, and then as a project manager in the areas of satellite communications and wireless technology. Originally from the Chicago area he has now resided in the Detroit area for more than half his life. He is a cradle Catholic who attended a Catholic grade school, high school and university. He has been married for 42 years to the love of his life, who is a certified Catechist, and they have three sons. He is now putting his BA in Journalism to use researching and writing about topics and issues that interest him. In addition to writing for Catholic Stand he has also had articles and essays published at and at .

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  • adam aquinas

    Did you for a moment ever consider why there is no anti-Taoist, anti-Buddhist, anti-Shinto, anti-panthiest, anti-Quaker, anti-Baha’i, anti-Unitarian Universalist, anti-Zoroastrian, anti Deist, etc sentiment in the United States? when you research the common denominator of these religions in the US, you will have your answer to anti-Catholic sentiment….
    As for schools, yes any and all religions should have their own schools. The founding fathers clearly established and repeatedly iterated that we (U.S.) is not a Christian nation….the founders were primarily deists. We should allow schools of any denomination BUT not at the taxpayer expense. To subsidize non-sectarian schools would allow them to impose their beliefs and discrimination upon any taxpayer who does not subscribe to their beliefs. There is a clear reason for the Jeffersonian notion of separation of church and state. I would be happy to share my tax money with school established and run by any religion, only if that religion and church paid taxes to support our country. If you open the door to state support of schools of any church you also open the door to support of any school which claims a link to any belief system….we cannot discriminate or support any religion over another…that was the reason for the Declaration of Independence.

    • Michael Van

      Not sure where you learned history but you are absolutely wrong when you say, “The founding fathers clearly established and repeatedly iterated that we (U.S.) is not a Christian nation….the founders were primarily deists.” Only four or five of them were Deists. The majority of them were practicing Protestants, and one or two were Protestant Clergymen, and three of them were practicing Catholics. But don’t take my word for it, just do a quick google search of “were the founding fathers religious.” You also have been propagandized by the Left about Jefferson’s notion of separation of Church and state. The Founding Fathers fully intended that ours would be a Christian nation, but they did bot want one Protestant denomination being favored over another,
      You are also obviously overlooking the main point being made here: Up until about the 1950s all public schools were essentially Protestant schools, supported by taxpayer many. And considering that our public schools have been doing so poorly since they got ‘secularized’ some competition from faith-based schools would be a good thing!

    • adam aquinas

      1797 Treaty of Tripoli, signed by President Adams and ratified by Senate without debate”

      ARTICLE 11.

      As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

      I did not study revisionist history…please read:

      The key is “were supported” …no more, never again….like slavery, it was wrong and discriminatory and now corrected….having been a HS principal for 30 years schools are not doing poorly, but are warranted to teach ALL even the most disabled. This is change and this is good, You want federal money, schools need to obey all federal laws and court decisions.

    • Michael Van

      Ya, OK, one line of a single treaty with Muslims (the Barbary Pirates) aimed at preventing a jihad against America, says we’re not a Christian nation, so of course this proves your case. There are numerous documents and treaties surrounding the Barbary Powers Conflict that confirm that historically it was always viewed as a conflict between Christian America and Muslim nations. The fact that you are going to Huffpo as a source confirms you buy in to revisionist history.

    • TomD

      “. . . the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion . . .” – Article XI, Treaty of Tripoli, 1797.

      This is a TRUE statement. The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or the free exercise thereof . . .”

      The GOVERNMENT of the United States is not . . . in any sense . . . founded on the Christian religion is a completely accurate statement and does not, in any sense, refute the idea that the American people constitute a Christian nation. Not a Christian government, but a Christian nation, a Christian people.

      It is not a contradiction to say that, at our founding, the people of the United States represented a Christian nation while the government of the United States is not . . . in any sense . . . founded on the Christian religion. Only today would the historical revisionists dispute this.