Blaine Bites Back

When Joshua Davey enrolled at Northwest College, he probably never dreamed that his decision would lead him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Davey arrived at Northwest with a scholarship given to Washington state residents who show academic promise. When he declared pastoral studies as his major, the scholarship was withdrawn. That's because Washington's state constitution, like thirty-seven other state constitutions, prohibits the use of state money for religious instruction. In addition, a state law prohibits "spending state money for students pursuing a degree in theology." Rather than change his major, Davey sued the state, arguing that the law violated his religious liberty. As he put it, "I felt that I was a second-class citizen in the eyes of the state . . . " The Ninth Circuit, the most liberal in the country, agreed with Davey, ruling that Washington lacked a "compelling reason" to withhold a scholarship. Washington state then appealed, and last week, the Supreme Court heard the case. Justice Breyer during the hearing said that the case has "huge implications." And he's right, especially if Davey loses. If the Court upholds the Washington provisions, we will be living in a culture where the state will provide funds to study anything, no matter how silly or pernicious, so long as it's not theology. That is the rankest kind of discrimination. But what's even worse is that this sad state of affairs will be, at least in part, the fault of American Protestants. The Washington constitutional provision is similar to those found in thirty-six other state constitutions. Collectively, they're known as Blaine Amendments, and they date from one of the meanest, cruelest periods of our history. In 1875, President Grant proposed a constitutional amendment that prohibited, among other things, "government funds from going to religious schools." Called the "Blaine Amendment" after its chief sponsor, its principle purpose was to exploit fear over Catholics then immigrating into the United States. Its chief target was Catholic schools. While the federal amendment didn't pass, Blaine invoked the specter of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion," and followers managed to pass similar provisions at the state level. They've been there ever since, and now the victims are, ironically, Protestants as well as Catholics -- not only Joshua Davey, but any theology student, and potentially students receiving vouchers to attend religious schools. The Supreme Court has a chance to undo this anti-Catholic bigotry, every bit as cruel as that perpetrated against other minorities. And it should. Conversely, if the Court upholds the Washington provisions, it will be handing Blaine and company a posthumous victory. It will make religious bigotry the law of the land. What can we do? The Supreme Court justices don't live in a sheltered cocoon. They read newspapers, editorials, and letters-to-the-editor. Christians ought to be talking publicly about what's really at stake here -- and send the Court letters and e-mails. We need to let them know what we think. And we had better make a good case, because if this goes against us, Christians will indeed be second-class citizens. And this time, it won't make a difference if you're Protestant or Catholic. For further reading and information: Substantive questions and comments should be directed, in writing, to the Public Information Officer, Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, D.C. 20543. Read more about Governor Gary Locke, et al. v. Joshua Davey. See the Pew Forum's resources on Locke v. Davey. Learn more about Blaine amendments. "The Blaine Game," Wall Street Journal, 7 December 2003. Ted Olsen, "Weblog: Supreme Court Will Take on 'Blaine Amendments'," Christianity Today, 20 May 2003. Bill Mears, "Justices debate public money for religious schooling," CNN, 2 December 2003. Eric Miller, "State wrong to revoke theology student's scholarship," Pitt News, 3 December 2003. Warren Richey, "A case of faith and college aid," Christian Science Monitor, 2 December 2003. Michael McGough, "The Blaine game," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 30 November 2003.


Chuck Colson


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