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The Living Past: "Blaine Amendments"
By David W. Kirkpatrick (September 27, 2007)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

        In his autobiography, Henry Adams said, "A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops." This is true for politicians as well. Quoting Adams usually implies a positive influence, but it may also be negative.
         The legacy of James G. Blaine is an unfortunate example.
         Born in Pennsylvania in 1830, Blaine died in Washington, D.C. in 1893. Briefly a teacher in Kentucky, he returned to Pennsylvania, then moved to Maine. His political career included serving as Speaker of the House at the state and national levels, as U.S. Secretary of State and almost being elected President of the United States in 1884.
         The Concise Dictionary of American Biography says his "permanent influence was through his foreign policy." If only that were so. Neither that work, nor most history books, mention his real "permanent influence" -- "Blaine Amendments."
         As a member of Congress, Blaine proposed a constitutional amendment prohibiting public aid to religious schools -- a common sentiment at a time when public schools were overwhelmingly Protestant. The Senate narrowly rejected the idea, but anti-Catholic bigotry was so prevalent that many states put the proposal in their constitutions, including those required to do so by Congress before they could be admitted to the Union.
         The controversy over "the separation of church and state" largely began at that time, not with the founding fathers, the U.S. Constitution or the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment. The idea has acquired a life of its own and its birth in bigotry is forgotten.
         Blaine himself paid for his bias. While Republican candidate for president in 1884, one of his supporters, New York Presbyterian minister Samuel Burchard, described Democrats as the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion." Because Blaine failed to disassociate himself from that remark he lost New York and the presidency.
         Yet Blaine's harmful affect lives on.
         As John Coons, an expert in education history and law, has written, "The machinery of public monopoly was chosen specifically by Brahmins like Horace Mann and James Blaine to coax the children from the religious superstition of their barbarian parents. Today, that antique machinery continues its designated role, and if this function was ever benign, it has long since ceased to be so. What has endured is the public school system's peculiar legacy of intolerance, racial segregation, religious bigotry, discrimination against the poor...[and] the careful buffering of the freedom of the rich to decide for themselves." (First Things, April 1992)
         As Coons suggests, the public school system is perhaps the most divisive institution in our society, a source of continual and increasingly bitter controversy. There is every indication that this will continue and accelerate until all parents can exercise their constitutional right (Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925, a U.S. Supreme Court unanimous decision) to control their children's education.
         How did a society, the individual members of which may be the most religious of any western democracy, become so anti-religious? No other democracy so opposes any public display of, belief in, or respect for, religious sentiment.
         No other democracy expresses such concern (fear?) over a "separation of church and state" (an expression which appears nowhere in our Constitution or other official enactment of the Founding Fathers) or some perceived "establishment of religion."
         The irony is that, at the time of the adoption of the U.S. Constitution and the creation of the United States, nine of the states had an established church, so the religion clause of the First Amendment clearly meant what it said -- that Congress shall not establish a religion for the nation.
         Over time, the states with an established church discontinued the practice. No one since has ever seriously suggested that we have an established religion at any level of government.
         Rather than an established religion, a major problem facing our society comes from the establishment of a government-owned and -operated schools which often emphasize indoctrination and control rather than education and freedom. The correction for this, as the Supreme Court said in 1925, is educational freedom of choice, a freedom on which this nation is based, and which remains blocked by today's more subtle but still real religious bigotry.
         Repealing Blaine amendments is long overdue.

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         "The Blaine amendment was a clear manifestation of religious bigotry, part of a crusade manufactured by the contemporary Protestant establishment to counter what was perceived as a growing ‘Catholic menace.'...contemporary sources labeled the amendment part of a plan to ‘institute a general war against the Catholic Church.'" Kotterman v. Killian, Supreme Court of Arizona, January 28, 1999

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Copyright 2007 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

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