Public figures, he notes, including one current and one future U.S. president at the time, pushed against taxpayer funding of Catholic schools and even advocated for an increase in the taxation of Catholic Church property in the U.S.
President Ulysses S. Grant pushed for a 1875 federal amendment by Sen. James Blaine of Maine that prohibited taxpayer funding of "sectarian" schools – the original "Blaine Amendment." It failed in the Senate, but the federal amendment took form at the state level and many states eventually passed versions of the bill barring state funding of Catholic schools.
In the Supreme Court's 2000 decision Mitchell v. Helms, a four-justice plurality insisted that the Blaine Amendment's motive to deny public funding of "sectarian" institutions was bigoted, particularly against Catholics. The court ruled that a religious school could receive a federal grant under certain conditions.
In 2017, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer that a church property couldn't be barred from a state renovation program simply on account of its religious affiliation.
"This case [Espinoza] is not only about constitutional law. It is about whether our nation will continue to tolerate this strain of anti-Catholic bigotry," the bishops continued.
"Blaine Amendments...were never meant to ensure government neutrality towards religion, but were expressions of hostility toward the Catholic Church. We hope that the Supreme Court will take this opportunity to bring an end to this shameful legacy."
The Second Vatican Council's 1965 declaration on Christian education, Gravissimum educationis, said that parents "must enjoy true liberty in their choice of schools."
"Consequently, the public power, which has the obligation to protect and defend the rights of citizens, must see to it, in its concern for distributive justice, that public subsidies are paid out in such a way that parents are truly free to choose according to their conscience the schools they want for their children," the document states.
President Donald Trump on Jan. 16 issued new rules for nine federal agencies. The rules seek to ensure that federal government social service programs are administered in line with the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, so that religious groups are not barred simply on account of their religious status.
The National Catholic Educational Association, which includes more than 150,000 educators serving 1.9 million Catholic school students across the U.S., is supportive of a proposed plan to create a federal tax credit-based scholarship program that could provide a boost for parents who want to send their children to Catholic school. The proposed scheme, which the U.S. Department of Education calls Education Freedom Scholarships, would be funded through taxpayers' voluntary contributions to state-identified Scholarship Granting Organizations.
Should the proposal become law, donors will receive a federal tax credit equal to their contribution.
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