Editor’s note: redefinED is offering this Thanksgiving Day commentary from Neal McCluskey, director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, via a Creative Commons republication agreement.
If you know your United States history, you know that the Pilgrims came to North America seeking to practice their religion free from the constraints of the Church of England. If you know your U.S. history well, you know that what many call the beginning of public schooling was the Massachusetts Bay colony’s law of 1647 requiring towns to supply some form of education, lest children fall victim to “that old deluder, Satan.” And if you know your history really well, you know that as public schooling developed it was repeatedly beset by religious conflicts, first as the schools were de facto Protestant, then as they became de facto agnostic.
The barriers I’m speaking of are Blaine Amendments, named after 19th century U.S. Senator James G. Blaine but found in 37 state constitutions. They are being challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue. The case involves a scholarship tax credit program that was struck down by Montana’s supreme court because it would have allowed scholarships to be used at religious schools. Oral arguments are scheduled for January 22, 2020.