Time to Say “Goodbye” to Mr. Blaine

Proposed Amendment would repeal outdated, discriminatory provision in Missouri Constitution

Blaine Amendments appear in 40 state constitutions, including Missouri’s. They are vestiges of anti-Catholic sentiments that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in America as large immigrant Catholic populations moved to the new world seeking a better life for themselves and their children. Named for James G. Blaine, a speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives who first championed the idea in 1875, the amendments provide that no school funds or benefits shall be expended in aid of “sectarian” (read Catholic) sects or denominations.

Blaine Amendments were popular at a time when some saw the building of Catholic schools as a papal plot to take over America. Missouri has one of the strictest Blaine Amendments in the nation, and it makes our state an odd man out in federal education programs that are supposed to provide services to all school children, public and private alike. Where in most other states public school teachers can enter a Catholic school to provide educational services under a federal program, such practices are discouraged in Missouri for fear of running afoul of the state’s Blaine Amendment.

As a consequence, the federal government often bypasses the state of Missouri and hires a private contractor to provide the services to the private school children. This sets up a dual universe of administration that wastes taxpayer dollars. Getting rid of Blaine would actually save the state of Missouri money.

It is time to politely say goodbye to Mr. Blaine. His idea has stymied meaningful school reform and frustrated the desire of parents to educate their children in a school that corresponds to their own moral convictions. In the 21st century, people expect to have some choice in their children’s education, just as they have some say in who their health care provider will be.

The old distrust of Catholics and Catholic schools is rapidly vanishing. Even in areas of the state where Catholics are a distinct minority, they are a welcomed part of communities. Meanwhile, support for giving parents more choices in their children’s education continues to grow. Perhaps it is fitting that this year the sponsor of an amendment to repeal Blaine is State Rep. Shane Schoeller, a Baptist from Southwest Missouri.

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