The Establishment Clause is usually in the thick of church-state battles. But the failed attempts this year by Georgia and Florida legislatures to repeal their states' Blaine Amendments highlighted another longstanding battlefront.

Passed shortly after the Civil War, Blaine Amendments prohibit government funds from flowing to religious or sectarian groups. Originally meant to limit Catholicism's influence, they are now used to restrict religious groups when appeals to the Constitution's ban on establishing religion don't work.

Cases brought under the Blaines often involve restricting how school vouchers are spent. A Florida appeals court ruled in 2004 that a voucher program violated the Blaine Amendment because it allowed public money to indirectly benefit religious schools. Last year, Arizona ended a state scholarship program for special-needs students to attend private schools of their parents' choosing.

The Supreme Court green-lighted such decisions in 2004 when it ruled in Locke v. Davey that the government can deny students a state-funded scholarship for majoring in theology.

But most Blaine Amendments carry much broader restrictions if they are interpreted literally.

A case currently before a Florida court involves two Christian nonprofits that contract with the state to operate halfway homes for substance abusers. The Council for Secular Humanism is suing Lamb of God Ministries, Prisoners of Christ, and the state under Florida's Blaine Amendment. The council claims that the nonprofits are proselytizing through programs operated in part using state funds.

But defenders say that under a literal reading of the Blaines, state contracts would be stripped from historic charitable monoliths like the Salvation Army or Catholic ...

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