The Blaine Amendment was proposed in 1875 by James G. Blaine, a Republican Congressman from Maine and future presidential candidate. It was an amendment to the federal Constitution that would forbid the public funding of private, denominational schools. The proposal was never voted upon and did not become part of federal law, although several states did put similar provisions in their state constitutions.
The Blaine Amendment read:
- No State shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect, nor shall any money so raised or lands so devoted be divided between religious sects or denominations.
The Constitutional amendment passed the House by a vote of 180 yeas and only 7 nays, but failed by 4 votes in the Senate to obtain the required 2/3 margin for a Constitutional amendment and never became federal law. The Blaine amendment became pivotal in state debates on the role of religion in public education, religious establishment, and religious expression for the next thirty-five years, and is a live issue in the 21st century.
Read (2004) examines the role of the GOP in creating a series of state public school systems in the North and West that were strongly shaped by Protestantism. To achieve this goal, Republicans supported amendments, legislation, and regulation in both national and state governments. In the South Bourbon Democrats drafted and ratified constitutions which restricted public funding of denominational schools to keep blacks and poor whites from access to education and the polling place. By 1911, about 30 states had a Blaine-like amendment in their state constitutions.
The majority of new immigrants 1880-1910 were Roman Catholics German Lutherans or Jews who represented non-pietistic religious values. As pietistic Protestants found their political power challenged by these newcomers, they sought to prevent the emergence of an unamerican (or un-republican) presence. In 1890, however, the GOP suffered heavy losses in part because of the issue of parochial schools. In 1896 William McKinley supported pluralism, promising all ethnic and religious groups would prosper and none would be the target of hostile federal action.
The issue came alive in the 21st century as evangelical and Catholic churches operating their own parochial schools wanted a voucher system so that parents could get state tuition money to attend these schools. A large majority of states already provide some limited kinds of aid to religiously-affiliated private schools, but vouchers are highly controversial, primarily because they are opposed by teacher unions.
- Deforrest, Mark Edward. "An Overview and Evaluation of State Blaine Amendments: Origins, Scope, and First Amendment Concerns." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. Volume: 26#2 2003. pp 551+. online version
- Green, Steven K. "The Blaine Amendment Reconsidered," The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 38–69 in JSTOR
- Read, Margery. "The Blaine Amendment and the Legislation It Engendered: Nativism and Civil Religion in the Late Nineteenth Century." PhD dissertation U. of Maine 2004. 248 pp. DAI 2005 66(1): 314-A. DA3159835
- Viteritti, Joseph P. "Blaine's Wake: School Choice, the First Amendment, and State Constitutional Law," Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Vol. 27, 2003.
- Despite reports to the contrary, it did not require or mention Bible reading in the public schools.
- Deforrest, (2003); Viteritti, (2003)