Idaho legislator is working to overturn ‘relic’ anti-school choice amendment

An Idaho lawmaker has introduced a resolution to remove an Idaho constitutional amendment which has historically restricted school choice programs.

“Article Nine, Section Five, known as the Blaine Amendment, is a relic of religious bigotry that prohibits state funds from flowing to sectarian organizations,” Rep. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, says. Blaine Amendments can be found in 37 state constitutions.

Lenney introduced a joint resolution on Monday to remove it from Idaho’s constitution. Doing so will also clear the path for school choice legislation, such as the ESA bill introduced by Idaho Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, as previously reported by The Lion.

Lenney shared an infographic on Twitter giving a brief history of the Blaine Amendments.

James Gillespie Blaine, the amendment’s namesake, served as one of Maine’s U.S. Representatives in the late 1800’s and has been accused of discriminatory views. 

Blaine’s “anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic views were embedded into constitutions provisions in 37 or 38 states, prohibiting public aid for ‘sectarian’ schools,” wrote Justice Clint Bolick of the Arizona Supreme Court. The amendment is characterized by “its bigoted pedigree and its discrimination on the basis of religious status.” 

In the last three years, the Supreme Court has ruled that Blaine Amendments cannot restrict public funds to private schools on the basis of their religious status (Espinoza v. Montana in 2020) or their religious teaching (Carson v. Makin in 2022). 

South Carolina Rep. Murrell Smith, R-Sumter, is also challenging his state’s version of the Blaine Amendment.  

In Idaho, the resolution is currently with the Senate Education Committee. Chairman Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, told local media he intends to give it a full hearing.