By Gene Van Son • May 11, AD2016
Catholics 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.
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
Gene M. Van Son is retired after spending 35 years in the automobile business. 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 www.AmericanThinker.com and at