The South Carolina Association of Christian Schools (SCACS) has filed an amicus brief in support of a federal civil rights lawsuit seeking to remove the Blaine Amendment from the state Constitution.
The lawsuit, which was filed earlier this month by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston and the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, argues the amendment discriminates against black residents and Catholics by withholding education funding from nonpublic schools in South Carolina.
The entities also said the amendment has been used to keep COVID-19 relief from private, independent and religious schools, including historically black colleges and universities.
South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment says no public money can be used for the direct benefit of any religious or private school.
“Under the guise of reinforcing the principle of separation of church and state, South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment in fact abridges South Carolinians’ rights to the free exercise of their religion and freedom of association,” the brief reads. “It first fails the test of strict scrutiny because there is no compelling state interest in enlarging the scope of what is prohibited by the Establishment Clause beyond that which the United States Constitution protects.”
The brief also argues South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment violates the spirit of Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court case that struck down the “separate but equal” doctrine and ruled racial segregation unconstitutional.
“We are grateful that the members of SCACS stand with the Roman Catholic Diocese and South Carolina’s independent universities in our common quest to remove the stain of Blaine from the state constitution,” said Daniel Suhr, senior attorney for the Liberty Justice Center and lead attorney for the plaintiffs. “Their brief adds momentum to our case and proves yet again why a federal court must act to end a century of legalized discrimination.”
SCACS is made up of 69 Christian schools across the state. Its schools serve more than 9,000 students.
The lawsuit names South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, Department of Administration Executive Director Marcia Adams and Department of Administration Budget Director Brian Gaines as defendants. It says McMaster and the Department of Administration have been unable to provide federal COVID-19 relief to South Carolina’s private, independent and religious schools because of the Blaine Amendment.
McMaster created the Safe Access to Flexible Education (SAFE) grant program in July to provide one-time, need-based grants of up to $6,500 to eligible mid- to low-income students attending private or independent schools in South Carolina with federal COVID-19 relief money.
The South Carolina Supreme Court, however, ruled the program unconstitutional in October based on the Blaine Amendment.
“Nobody fought the SAFE grants lawsuit more vigorously than the governor did, and he still believes it was incorrectly decided,” governor’s office Communications Director Brian Symmes said. “Every step of the way, the governor warned that the lawsuit could have far-reaching consequences and unnecessarily prevent these schools and parents from accessing emergency federal funds.”
Federal COVID-19 funding allowed for states to administer block grants at their discretion, and South Carolina allocated $115 million to reimburse state agencies, local governments and higher education institutions for COVID-19 related costs.
Based on the court’s ruling regarding the SAFE program, however, Adams determined the state’s private colleges and universities were not eligible for the grants, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit seeks a “prompt court order to bar state officials from continuing to discriminate against religious and independent schools” when issuing COVID-19 relief funding, Suhr said.
Thirty-seven states have similar Blaine Amendment provisions, which date back to the 1800s, in their constitutions.
Originally posted at The Center Square. Republished with permission.