In a case currently before the Supreme Court, a Lutheran church is fighting Missouri’s decision not to allow it to benefit from a statewide program in which public funds are used to resurface playgrounds. Nathan Diament explains the case’s implications:
The legal basis of the denial is the Missouri state constitution’s “Blaine Amendment,” which states: “no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, or creed of religion” and no government entity “shall ever make an appropriation or pay from any public fund . . . anything in aid of any . . . church.” . . .
This provision . . . carries a pernicious pedigree. The great wave of Catholic immigration to America in the 1800s gave rise to strong anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic sentiment. In 1875, Senator James Blaine of Maine proposed an amendment to the federal constitution using the above-quoted text. The senator’s goal was to deny Catholic schools the kind of government funding that “common schools” (which were essentially Protestant) were receiving.
The amendment failed to garner a two-thirds vote in the Senate, but . . . the anti-Catholic forces succeeded in having their no-aid language adopted into all but ten state constitutions. . . .
[O]ver the past 25 years, the Supreme Court’s church-state jurisprudence has shifted to hold that while the government must not favor a particular religion, or religion in general, the Constitution also does not demand that the government disfavor religion. . . . This newer, sensible jurisprudence is at odds with the anti-religious, strict-separation approach of the Blaine Amendments.
This conflict is not an academic one. The high court’s ruling in the [Missouri] case will directly impact the very safety and welfare of the Jewish community and other faith communities.