Razing Blaine

The Washington state scholarship had Joshua Davey's name all over it: class valedictorian, perfect grades, attending a Washington school. But when, in 1999, Davey decided to double-major in business administration and theology at the Assemblies of God-affiliated Northwest College, Washington pulled the scholarship.

"It was simply a matter of his choice of degree that excluded him from eligibility for state financial aid," Carolyn Busch, executive policy adviser to Washington Gov. Gary Locke, told The Washington Times in a June 2000 article (not available online anymore, but discussed in an old Weblog). "We try to be as open as we can on our policies, but when a student chooses a theology degree, then they are not eligible for state financial aid."

That's because of Washington's constitution, which has something called a Blaine Amendment forbidding the use of public funds for religious purposes. Such amendments appear in 36 other state constitutions, which were created in the late 1800s to fight Roman Catholicism (they're named for James Blaine, who tried to get such an amendment in the U.S. Constitution). At least 14 states specifically prohibit theology majors from receiving state scholarships.

Last July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Blaine Amendment, saying it discriminated "in such a way as to suppress a religious point of view."

Yesterday, the Supreme Court promised to take up the case in its next term, and many observers are saying it could be a landmark decision for religious liberty issues. And the bets are that the Supreme Court will agree with the 9th circuit on this one, since last year's Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision allowing religious schools to receive state-funded tuition vouchers treaded on similar ground.

Not everyone agrees, however. UC-Berkeley law professor Jesse H. Choper tells the Los Angeles Times says "it would be a big step" for the justices to interpreted the First Amendment's guarantee of free exercise of religion as a guarantee of public support for religion. (But the court wouldn't have to take that step: it would only have to reiterate earlier decisions that if a government offers public support, it can't deny it on the basis of religion.)

"Should the Washington case lead to a clear new rule prohibiting discrimination based on religion, it could conceivably affect the entire dispute over educational vouchers," says a Denver Post editorial, which doesn't give an opinion on the case other than to say it "is of obvious importance."
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"The Supreme Court has the potential to strip away the last legal defense school choice opponents have," Clark Neily, senior attorney for the pro-voucher Institute for Justice, says in a press release.

But it's not just about furthering vouchers. A ruling against the Blaine Amendment would be a huge boost for President Bush's faith-based initiative, notes the Times's David G. Savage.

If the Supreme Court decides that the First Amendment's ban on religious discrimination takes precedence over state constitutions' explicit discrimination against religion (as the justices should), there will be few church-state debates unaffected.

In other Supreme Court news …

Also yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court said it wouldn't hear an appeal of lower court rulings against the town of Burbank, which began its City Council meetings with "sectarian" prayers. The ruling means that all California legislative bodies can open with invocations, but they cannot invoke anything that identifies the prayer with a particular set of beliefs. Buddhists, Hindus, and Zoroastrians must get as much out of the prayer as Christians, Muslims, and Jews.

"We still have the invocation. We just don't have a sectarian invocation," Assistant City Attorney Juli C. Scott told the Associated Press. "They are usually very benign, positive expressions of thanks asking for divine guidance so legislators do a good job."

Other cities say they'll probably do away with invocations altogether.

The court still hasn't announced whether it will hear an appeal on whether requiring students to recite the Pledge of Allegiance's "under God" phrase unconstitutionally promotes religion.

More articles

Missions and Ministry:

  1. Rebels target aid workers in Afghanistan | In the last month alone, seven Afghan mine-clearers have been shot and one killed in four separate ambushes in the south of the country (Associated Press)

  2. Adopt-a-Family tests Jews, Christians | Walkathon seen as political by some (The Boston Globe)

  3. Pray as you spray: Christian paintball | Paintball is an effective tool for conveying Gospel truths, says Jim Wilson, founder of the Palm City chapter of the Christian Paintball Players Association (TCPalm.com, Fla.)

  4. Eclectic worship service aims to close racial gaps | The first Gathering drew 7,500 people to the Gaylord Entertainment Center. That almost doubled last year, when more than 13,000 people attended the event some organizers said was as diverse as the city of Nashville (The Tennessean, Nashville)
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Gracia Burnham:

  1. In harm's way; in Jesus' name | Despite controversy, danger, New Tribes still sends missionaries into the field (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

  2. DOJ official to meet Gracia Burnham | Or at least she'll try (Today, ABS-CBN, Philippines)

  3. Military officers accused of colluding with Abu Sayyaf summoned for pre-trial probe | Officers, accused of letting the rebels and their captives escape from a security cordon around the hospital in Lamitan, could face court-martial (Associated Press)

Australian Missionary murdered:

  1. Missionary doomed by ignorance | Keen to put in some work on a proposed new shop, Lance Gersbach did not know the site was the subject of a long-festering land dispute (The Australian)

  2. Also: Slain in paradise | Lance Gersbach's killer waited until he was alone before ambushing and beheading the Australian missionary as he was building a store in the Solomon Islands (The Daily Telegraph, Australia)

  3. Also: Beheaded missionary's family coming home | "His family is coping with this, they're shattered and shocked, but they are receiving care and support." (The Sunday Times, Australia)

  4. Also: Missionary murder points to deepening crisis | Matthew Wale says leaders must take responsibility for the deterioration of law and order (Radio Australia, listen)


  1. Persecution is increasing in developing countries—and going unnoticed | The murder May 6 of a man named Jamil Ahmed Rifai unveiled the face of 21st-century Christian martyrdom (Kansas City Star)

  2. Four Christians murdered in Colombia | Twenty-five armed men entered a rural church in northern Colombia the evening of May 6 and murdered its 80-year-old evangelical pastor and three other believers (Compass Direct)

  3. Service held for victim of Tripoli mission bomb | Speakers called for stopping attacks against the Evangelical community (The Daily Star, Lebanon)

Politics and law:

  1. U.S. wants groups to receive housing aid | The Bush administration wants to allow religious groups to receive federal housing aid even if they hire or fire employees based on their religion (Associated Press)

  2. Faith in office | A recent conference at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ont., titled The Hidden Pierre Trudeau, was both unprecedented and daringly un-Canadian: a gathering of politicians, academics and journalists to examine a prime minister's religious faith and beliefs (The Globe & Mail, Toronto)

  3. Church and state | Idaho and Wyoming put up a fight, but in the battle for bragging rights as the nation's most conservative state, nobody can touch Utah (The Washington Times)

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  1. God and George W. Bush | Is President Bush a religious zealot, or does he just pander to that crowd? (Bill Keller, The New York Times)

  2. Family values warning | The significant moral implications aside, the GOP's flirtation with the homosexual movement is simply bad politics. (Paul M. Weyrich, UPI)

  3. Gays and lesbians need not apply | Fine print of GOP-sponsored job-training bill conceals discriminatory religious exemption (Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange.com)

  4. Praise the Lord, pass the votes | The Republicans' pact with the religious Right reflects a growing divide between the US and other nations (Will Hutton, The Observer)

  5. Religious symbols could decide the struggle for Venezuela's soul | Seeking explanations for President Hugo Chavez Frias' constant use of religious expressions, taking out a crucifix from his pocket and calling Jesus Christ, "Commander-in-Chief of the Revolution," opposition and foreign critics have been hard-pushed to sell the Chavez-is-a Communist card (Patrick J. O'Donoghue, VHeadline.com, Venezuela)

Church life:

  1. Anger at cathedral charges | A number of volunteers have resigned as stewards at a Devon cathedral over a new policy of charging visitors (BBC)

  2. Wanted: Bishop, no experience needed | The Church of England has advertised for a new bishop in the small ads at the back of two church newspapers (BBC)

  3. Alliance upbeat about future | Steering committee for Christian Churches Together in the USA to meet in L.A. (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel)

  4. A machine for believing | At a Munich church, the front door comes in two sizes—standard and almighty (46 feet high) (The New York Times)

  5. Two churches, one house | Lutheran and UCC congregations worship at St. Paul's (Dubs) Union Church (York Daily Record, Penn.)

  6. Also: Two churches find new life together | Shrinking congregations stay separate, share pastor (The Toledo Blade)

  7. Pastor fails Kawaiaha'o vote | It was the first time in the church's 160-year history that the congregation said no to a nominee for senior pastor (Honolulu Advertiser)

  8. Also: Kawaiaha'o Church rejects Patterson as head pastor | His appearance and arrest record may have alienated some in the congregation (Honolulu Star-Bulletin)

  9. Kirk assembly throws out merger plan | The Church of Scotland's General Assembly voted overwhelmingly yesterday to reject plans for the creation of a "superchurch" that would merge the country's four main Protestant denominations (The Times, London)

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  1. An atheist loses faith | The fall in churchgoing opens up a troubling void in society (Ruaridh Nicoll, The Observer)

  2. Cathedral opens £10,000 challenge | Coventry Cathedral has £10,000 to give away with the aim of making £50,000 (Evening Telegraph, Coventry, U.K.)

  3. Say it proud: I am a Baptist preacher | Opinion polls rank Baptist preachers near the bottom in respectability, right there with used-car salesmen and lawyers (Dwight A. Moody, The Dallas Morning News)

  4. Passing staff at Armenian Church | After 32 years, the primate of the largest U.S. diocese turns it over to a new leader (Los Angeles Times)

  5. East-West Church tension grows | The Russian Orthodox Church has reacted angrily to a number of moves by the Vatican which it considers an encroachment on its territory (BBC)

  6. Flock fires pastor over credit card use | C.L. Stallworth used card for personal expenses, including $2,000 spent on diamond rings (The Birmingham News, Ala.)


  1. 'God's Secretaries': Blessed Are the Phrasemakers | Adam Nicolson recounts the story of a committee that actually accomplished something: the King James Version (Christopher Hitchens, The New York Times Book Review)

  2. Also: A great music | Committees and creativity in the making of the King James Bible (James Wood, The New Yorker)

  3. Countdown to the end times | The world's demise gets lots of ink—and debate (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  4. Also: And more thrillers on the way (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  5. Help to find your spiritual home | Carmen Renee Berry has compiled a resource that is both historical and contemporary—examining the roots of Christian traditions while urging readers to make their decisions based on their needs today (Minneapolis Star-Tribune)


  1. Afroman getting high on religion | Joseph Foreman, the Hattiesburg rapper who shot to stardom in 2001 with the hit party song "Because I Got High," has a new message for his fans (Hattiesburg American, Miss.)

  2. June Carter Cash's Christian faith, love for family remembered | Singer, songwriter, and actress died May 15 at age 73 following complications from heart surgery (Baptist Press)

Related Elsewhere:

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