(The Center Square) – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit heard oral arguments Wednesday in a case against Michigan’s Blaine amendment, which restricts most public funds from going toward private schools.
Five families sued the state in September 2021, arguing that the state’s Blaine amendment violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution because they were not allowed to use Michigan’s Education Savings Plan for private school tuition.
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy and Bursch Law represent the five families and a parental school choice organization in the case against the state’s constitutional provision.
“For the first time in this case, the state of Michigan admitted passing a constitutional amendment with intent to discriminate on the basis of religion would be unconstitutional,” Patrick Wright, vice president for legal affairs at the Mackinac Center, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Yet the state still claimed that Michigan’s Blaine amendment was not enacted with religious hostility, despite that when the Blaine amendment was passed, 98% of private schools were religious and the overwhelming majority of those were Catholic,” Wright continued.
The lawsuit contends the Blaine amendment violates the U.S. Constitution because it does not allow parents to use savings plan dollars for tuition for private schools, even though parents could use the funds to attend an out-of-district public school.
It also argues that the law was motivated by anti-religious messaging including “advertisements, campaign literature and letters to the editor” that were “anti-Catholic” and currently requires schools and families to “divorce” themselves from religious affiliation to receive public funds.
Last year, a Michigan district court dismissed the families’ case, citing arguments from the state that it does not see the provision as being rooted in anti-Catholic sentiment and “simply draws a hard line between public education and nonpublic education in all its forms — sectarian or secular.”
The Mackinac Center and Bursch Law filed an appeal on behalf of the families in January this year.
As Chalkboard has reported, school choice legislation allowing families to use public funds for private schools has passed in several states this year.
Advocates say parents should be able to choose whatever education option works for their children, while critics say the measures defund public schools already strapped for cash.