Senate Education Committee votes to introduce bill to repeal Idaho’s Blaine Amendment

Amendment prohibits public entities, including Legislature, from using public funds for religious organizations

By: - January 30, 2023 5:08 pm
Idaho State Capitol rotunda

A Nampa legislator introduced a bill Monday that would repeal the Blaine Amendment in Idaho’s Constitution, a clause that states no public entity — including the Legislature — shall appropriate funds that support religious organizations, including schools. (Otto Kitsinger for the Idaho Capital Sun)

A Nampa legislator introduced a bill Monday that would repeal the Blaine Amendment in Idaho’s Constitution, a clause that states no public entity — including the Legislature — shall appropriate funds that support religious organizations, including schools.

Sen. Brian Lenney
Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa (Courtesy of the Idaho Legislature)

The joint resolution, sponsored by Rep. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, would need approval from two-thirds of both chambers of the Idaho Legislature to be placed on the ballot, and a simple majority of voters would have to vote to approve the change, according to Idaho law.

“Article Nine, Section Five, known as the Blaine Amendment, is a relic of religious bigotry that prohibits state funds from flowing to sectarian organizations,” Lenney told the committee.

Lenney’s comments were brief, and committee Chairman Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls, did not allow discussion on the motion to print the bill.

“We will have our discussions on it if and when it comes back (for a full hearing),” Lent told committee members.

What does Idaho’s Blaine Amendment say exactly?

The amendment reads, “Neither the Legislature nor any county, city, town, township, school district, or other public corporation, shall ever make any appropriation, or pay from any public fund or moneys whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian or religious society, or for any sectarian or religious purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church, sectarian or religious denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation, to any church or for any sectarian or religious purpose.”

The Blaine Amendment is included in 37 of 50 state constitutions, including Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Nevada. The amendment is named after U.S. Rep. James G. Blaine, a Republican from Maine who advocated for a federal constitutional amendment with the same wording in 1876. While the bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, it failed in the Senate. But the amendment found success in all but 12 state legislatures over the next several decades.

According to historical research, the motivation behind the amendment was targeted to deny government funding to schools operated by the Catholic Church in particular, as Catholic immigration had increased in the 1800s and tensions were high between Catholics and Protestants. At the time, public school days usually included Protestant prayer, lessons taught from Protestant bibles and the singing of Protestant hymns, according to researchers.

Idaho Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton,
Idaho Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, walks by the rotunda of the State Capitol in Boise on Jan. 9, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho’s Blaine Amendment has been cited as the stumbling block for past legislative efforts to establish scholarship or other voucher-like programs for Idaho students. Groups that have lobbied for school vouchers or education savings accounts argue that recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings related to public scholarships and tax credits for religious schools clear the way for states to create education savings or voucher programs without violating the Blaine Amendment. The court ruled 5-4 in the case of Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue in 2020 that a state-based scholarship program that provides public funds to allow students to attend private schools cannot discriminate against religious schools under the U.S. Constitution. In June 2022, the court ruled 6-3 in Carson v. Makin that Maine’s prohibition on vouchers for religious schools was unconstitutional.

In a constituent newsletter sent Monday, Sen. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, said she will have a print hearing for her education savings account bill on Tuesday in the Senate Education Committee. The Idaho Freedom Caucus posted a draft version of the bill on Twitter on Jan. 24.


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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.