The plaintiffs have pointed to the historical context of the provision, which was backed by the national anti-Catholic group American Protective Association, and South Carolina politician and eventual-U.S. Senator Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman, then-governor of the convention.
“Pitchfork Ben’s racial bigotry lined up nicely with other delegates’ anti-Catholic bigotry,” the plaintiffs said. They objected that a Baptist food pantry, a Catholic hospital, and a Muslim mosque can receive COVID-19 relief, but not schools or universities affiliated with religion.
In a previous statement, the plaintiffs charged that the Blaine Amendment was passed “in order to suppress the education of newly freed slaves and to enable discrimination against Catholic immigrants.” They called the amendment “born of bigotry and prejudice, based on race and religion.”
Last month, Suhr said the lawsuit is based on a principle everyone can support. “We’re fighting to strike down a century-old law that was enacted with the purpose of discriminating against our fellow citizens,” he said.
McMaster had sought to allocate $14 million in private school vouchers, but the state Supreme Court’s decision put that effort into limbo as well, the Charleston Post and Courier reported. While McMaster disagreed with the state Supreme Court Decision, his attorney said, he must enforce the law.
The law, however, could face significant scrutiny given recent court cases.
In June 2020, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the Montana state constitution’s ban on public funding of religious institutions violated the First Amendment. The provision constituted “discrimination against religious schools and the families whose children attend them,” the majority opinion stated. That case concerned a ban on students at religious schools benefitting from a state scholarship program funded by tax credits.
The New Mexico Supreme Court in 2018 upheld a book-lending program that gives school children at public and private schools equal access to state-approved textbooks; the program had been challenged under the state Blaine Amendment. The 2017 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer found that a state cannot deny public benefits to religious entities simply because they are religious.