Ever heard of the Blaine Amendment? I hadn't, until just recently.
James G. Blaine was the Speaker of the House from 1869 to 1875, a Senator, and he sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1876, 1880, and 1884 before winning the nomination (and losing the election) in 1888. As Speaker in 1875, he proposed an amendment to the US Constitution forbidding the use of federal funds at "sectarian" schools (primarily Catholic schools, not simply religious schools... most public schools at that time taught religion & morals, but of a Protestant persuasion. This is why the Catholic school system was initially erected).
The amendment failed, but all of the states that entered the Union afterward -- and some already in the Union -- would adopt the amendment in their state constitutions. Today, 37 of the 50 states have this amendment in their constitutions.
So what's the big deal? Let me refer to what the Becket Fund has to say:
- Until recently, it has not been widely known that Blaine Amendments were passed as a direct result of the nativist, anti-Catholic bigotry that was a recurring theme in American politics during the 19th and early 20th centuries. Finally, in the Supreme Court's Mitchell v. Helms decision in 2000, the four-Justice plurality explicitly recognized that the term "pervasively sectarian" in First Amendment jurisprudence has a "shameful pedigree." Justice Breyer's dissent in this year's Zelman v. Simmons-Harris further develops the theme, and makes clear that the Court now recognizes that many of its school funding decisions rest on shaky ground.
Let's hope they win.