The Supreme Court may finally undo the legacy of 19th-century anti-Catholic bigotry.
American religious schools have gotten a bad deal for centuries, but they’ll finally get their day in court next year. The Supreme Court recently decided to hear a case challenging Montana’s anti-Catholic Blaine Amendment in its next term. The high court could unravel the antireligious bias written into the constitutions of Montana and dozens of other states—and improve the lives of millions of children trapped in underperforming public schools.
The Blaine Amendments were a response to Roman Catholic, mostly Irish, immigration to the U.S. in the 19th century. Rep. James G. Blaine, a Republican from Maine, pushed for a federal constitutional amendment that would ban public support for religious schools. In 1875 Rutherford B. Hayes told Blaine that the Republican Party had “been losing strength in Ohio for several years by emigration of Republican farmers.” Hayes, who served nonconsecutive terms as Ohio’s governor, explained that “in their place have come Catholic foreigners. . . . We shall crowd them on the school and other state issues.” While Blaine’s effort failed in the Senate, a majority of states amended their constitutions to incorporate his idea.
Even so, Catholic schools saw tremendous growth from the 1880s through the 1960s. Enrollment has shrunk since then, but 3.8 million students still attend religious schools in the U.S. Catholic schools serve close to two million students, more than 900,000 in urban areas. They survived the 20th century by adapting to the largely black and Hispanic communities that replaced the Irish, Italian and Polish Catholics in urban parishes.
Ray Domanico is the director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute.
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