A recent Houston Chronicle editorial claims that empowering parents to choose their own children’s education (yes, including low-income parents) would upset the First Amendment’s Establishment clause.
Sure, some schools with a religious focus can provide kids with a solid education, the editorial board admits. “But when it comes to the constitutional separation of church and state, we worry that what starts as a stream will end as a river,” the board says about a recent Supreme Court ruling on a case from Maine.
That’s exactly 180 degrees from the truth. It’s backward. Denial of funding for religious schools was based in religious discrimination—the real violation of the First Amendment at work here. The rules against such funding in various states are referred to as “Blaine Amendments,” named for a Maine Republican who led the charge against Catholic immigrants who were unhappy with the openly Protestant nature of most American schools in the late 19th Century.
“Protestant lawmakers responded by passing Blaine Amendments to protect their monopoly on public funding for schools,” the Federalist Society’s Erica Smith explains. “Although the public schools are now secular, these Amendments continue to be used to discriminate against Catholic schools and religious schools of all denominations, as well as the families who wish to send their children to them.”
In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court clearly ruled in the Espinoza case that Blaine Amendments are themselves unconstitutional and discriminatory. Excluding religious schools from Montana’s tuition assistance program was based in bigotry.
“In the founding era and the early 19th century, governments provided financial support to private schools, including denominational ones,” Justices pointed out in that landmark case. “…The Blaine Amendment was ‘born of bigotry’ and ‘arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general;’ many of its state counterparts have a similarly ‘shameful pedigree.’”
The Chronicle’s pearl-clutching about parents choosing religious schools is just that warmed-over (and trendy) anti-Catholic sentiment, reminiscent of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s criticism that “the dogma lives loudly” in now-Justice Amy Coney Barrett.
The truth is that public funds often find their way into religious arenas. Food stamps can be used to purchase food that is shared at church picnics; is the Chronicle ready to monitor potato salads for their religiosity?
Pell Grants are used at religious universities—including, for example, Harvard University, which was founded to train ministers of the Gospel. Head Start funding can be used at church-based preschools, and Medicaid and Medicare enrollees often receive care at religious hospitals.
Other states have parent empowerment programs that allow funding to follow students—even into religious schools. Have they experienced the “river” undermining the wall of separation? Of course not. Florida has a 20-plus year track record of private school choice and has proven, without a doubt, it benefits kids and the public system, and save taxpayers money. The Chronicle editorial completely ignores this fact. Studies there show “scholarship students are up to 43% more likely to go to college and up to 29% more likely to earn an associates degree than their peers.”
But the most telling line—the lie—in the Chronicle’s editorial is this: “In a world that is increasingly divided, the schools serve as a unifying force in our nation and in our state.”
Parents know better; they know the NEA remains committed to injecting critical race theory into every classroom nationwide, that so-called social emotional learning is just the latest woke trend aims to turn children into advocates for radical ideologies. They know teachers unions oppose full curriculum transparency, schools are holding Pride parades and events meant to be kept “confidential” from families, and worse.
The U.S. Supreme Court got the Maine parent empowerment case right. No one loves our children more than we do, and no one is better equipped than parents to make decisions on their behalf. Nothing in the Houston Chronicle’s editorial changes that.