Anti-voucher Bigotry as Blaine as Day
By Bonnie Chernin Rogoff
Founder, Jews For Life
July 2, 2002
From something bad comes something good - that's what they say. After last week's unconscionable ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court to ban "Under G-d" from the Pledge of Allegiance, the U.S. Supreme Court did the right AND good thing in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, upholding that the Cleveland voucher program is Constitutional. In most repressed Cleveland districts poor minority children have been shackled to a failing public school system that endorses the status quo. The literacy rates, test scores and high school dropout rates have been appalling. In a majority opinion written by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court ruled that providing vouchers to parents is not a violation of the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, since the parents are the ones who choose the schools. This is the key point - parents use these vouchers to educate their children in religious schools; they are the ones making the decision - not the federal government. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor pointed out that Pell grants are used by students to attend religious schools, and Medicaid funds are allocated to Catholic hospitals. To imply that tax money is going to endorse a particular faith is nonsense. Thank G-d for small miracles from our Courts.
However, small miracles that offer huge potential change benefiting children do not appeal to the anti-choice teachers' unions. Why should they? Hundreds of billions of dollars doled out by taxpayers allocated toward public school supplies and programs are re-directed to the supremacist/administrators' deep pockets. The disorganization is so ingrained into the system, the New York City Board of Education can't even tell us how many people they employ. Thus, when accountability strikes, the anti-voucher crowd goes mad.
This leads me to Laurie Goodstein whose June 30, 2002 New York Times article, "In States, Hurdles Loom," focuses on the Blaine Amendments. These 19th Century racist provisions were enacted and adopted into State Constitutions, starting with Massachusetts in 1854. Their purpose was to bar Catholics from public schools and from holding public office, and further prohibited tax dollars from going to religious schools. The namesake for those bigoted proposals was House Speaker James G. Blaine, who tried and failed to have the amendments added to the U. S. Constitution. Nevertheless, these poisonous amendments were never repealed from many State Constitutions and are presently used to restrict government aid to religious schools.
To illustrate, Ms. Goodstein opens her piece with a 1986 Washington State case in which a nearly blind 28-year-old dishwasher was denied vocational aid to study at a Christian college. While eventually winning his case in the U.S. Supreme Court, he never received a dime from Washington State because it is one of 37 states that include a "Blaine Amendment" within its State Constitution. Simply put, Washington State forbids public funding of religious schools, as do the other 36 states. Ironically, some of today's most liberal states - including Massachusetts - retain the overtly bigoted Blaine Amendments within their State Constitutions. Yet our freethinking media ignores this issue while taking pains to criticize the divisive nature of flying the Confederate flag over the South Carolina Capitol Building.
Voucher proponents should not rush out and celebrate the Supreme Court ruling. As Ms. Goodstein observes, "When the court rules that something is permissible, like vouchers, it does not necessarily mean that it is required, constitutional scholars say." Unless states recognize the errors of their ways and rescind these holdovers from our prejudiced past, voucher programs may not make their way into our mainstream educational system. Further complicating this issue today is that many people, while not anti-Catholic, view these State Constitutional Amendments as ensuring the separation of church and state. Unfortunately, our moral decay in recent decades further removes much of our populace from anything to do with G-d.
Not all is lost for voucher proponents. Kevin J. Hasson, President of the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom (www.becketfund.org) is challenging the Blaine Amendments in the Supreme Court on the grounds they are bigoted, originally supported by state Ku Klux Klan groups in the mid 19th Century to foster an anti-immigration bias. Imagine the outcry from the left if conservatives supported a cause that could trace its origins to a pro-slavery bias. The hypocrisy should surprise no one since the Senior Democratic Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, was once a "Kleagle" in the KKK, collecting $10.00 for each new recruit. Moreover, we should not forget his use of the "White N-Word" during a TV interview. However, both stories were in and out of the news in 48 hours.
Laurie Goodstein did not mention in her essay what happened to Larry Witter, the 28-year-old nearly blind man from Washington who wanted a chance to become a missionary. My guess is he's still washing dishes. If the teachers' unions, atheists and their liberal Democratic allies have their way, he always will.
I sincerely hope that the Becket Fund is successful in its pursuit to overturn these arcane state Blaine Amendments and that school voucher programs proliferate across the country. With a school voucher in hand, a Pledge of Allegiance with "under G-d" included and school prayer permitted, our children will have a chance for an effective education regardless of religion, color, creed and national origin.
Copyright 2002 by Bonnie Chernin Rogoff. Not to be reproduced in any fashion, in whole or in part, without written consent from the author. All rights reserved.