Will the Supreme Court Challenge Anti-Catholic Blaine Amendments? | Institutional Religious Freedom

December 11, 2015

Recently, the U.S Supreme Court was asked to consider a case out of Colorado with significant religious freedom implications for religious schools and the families who want to send their children to such schools. Three petitions for cert (requests that the US Supreme Court review the decision) have been filed.

The facts of the case are this: the Douglas County school district implemented an innovative scholarship program for families to use to have a choice about where to educate their children. The scholarship program, the first like it in the country on a local level, gave low -income families the freedom to seek the educational opportunities that best meet the unique needs and values of their family. Independent religious schools were treated on neutral grounds with independent non-religious schools as valid options from which families could select. The school district voucher program offered scholarships of up to 75% of the district’s per-student revenue.

However, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that religious schools were ineligible for the scholarship program, that, in effect, according to Thomas Berg, Director of the Religious Liberty Appellate Clinic at the University of St. Thomas “religious schools and families must be singled out for exclusion from this program.” Of the four justices in the majority, three relied on Colorado’s Blaine Amendment, a state constitutional provision banning funding to “sectarian” educational institutions.