Denver, Colo., May 5, 2021 / 12:00 pm
A 19th-century constitutional amendment in South Carolina is wrongly blocking coronavirus relief money for Catholic schools, an attorney for the Charleston diocese said in federal court Monday.
The state’s version of a Blaine Amendment, a policy barring state funding of religious institutions, was enacted in 1895. The Diocese of Charleston and an association of colleges are challenging it in court, claiming that it unlawfully shut off Catholic schools from critical relief funds during the pandemic.
The lawsuit argues that amendment violates the free exercise and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution. A hearing in the case was held at a federal district court in Charleston, South Carolina, on May 3.
The plaintiffs’ attorney Daniel Suhr asked U.S. District Judge Bruce Hendricks to issue an injunction against the amendment, arguing that it is rooted in efforts to deprive Catholics and Blacks of education funds.
“South Carolina has come a long way since 1895,” said Suhr. “But though the state has come a long way, its past is with us still.”
He argued that the Blaine Amendment still prevents Catholic schools and historically Black colleges and universities from “fair, equitable access” to the relief funds, the Charleston Post and Courier reported.
Some $34 million in federal funds are at stake in the case, provided as discretionary spending under the federal CARES Act which passed Congress in March 2020 for pandemic relief.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster had designated $32 million to help low-and moderate-income families in enrolling or remaining in private schools during the pandemic; he set aside another $2.4 million to assist with health upgrades and distance-based learning technology at the state’s historically Black colleges and universities, most of which are private.