School choice is constitutional
January 22. 2018 8:14PM
To the Editor: SB 193’s opponents argue that public funds cannot be used to support religious schools. Our state constitution does indeed say that “no money raised by taxpayers shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools...of any religious sect or denomination.”
However, laws such as this, known as Blaine Amendments, were common in many state constitutions in the 19th century when Catholic immigrants became the victims of intense discrimination and consequently started their own schools. Public schools at that time were strongly influenced by Protestant denominations and were surprisingly religious. Until 1968, the state constitution actually required citizens “to make adequate provision...for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” This wording was eventually eliminated “to remove obsolete sectarian references,” while the Blaine Amendment was retained. Such an obvious reflection of historical prejudice, however, should not be factored into the current debate over SB 193.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already upheld the constitutionality of government funds being used at religious schools because the money was given to parents rather than schools (Zelman v. Simmons-Harris, 2002.) The GI Bill, enacted after World War II, allowed returning soldiers to enroll at any college at the government’s expense, even religious ones. As long as the government does not advocate a particular religion by giving money directly to a religious school, there is no violation of constitutional rights. Even New Hampshire’s attorney general agrees, since he recently asserted that SB 193 would not violate the constitution.