FEA vs Free Exerc⁠i⁠se of Rel⁠i⁠g⁠i⁠on

By: The James Madison Institute / July 21, 2011

The James Madison Institute


July 21, 2011

By Robert F. Sanchez, JMI Policy Director
People of good faith may well disagree about the best way to secure the promise of religious freedom contained in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. While much of the litigation in recent years has focused on the provision that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” the words that follow — “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — have often been neglected.People of faith may reasonably wonder how free they are to exercise their religion through the operation of schools, hospitals, prison ministries, rehab centers, soup kitchens, and other institutions serving the public if they’re going to be penalized for including an element related to their faith. They may also wonder how a Blaine Amendment is violated by the mere transfer of public funds to a faith-based enterprise if, in return, a valuable service is provided. By analogy, suppose you’ve just arrived somewhere by taxi, need change to tip the driver, and a Salvation Army kettle is nearby; are you “aiding religion” if you give the bell ringer a $20 and receive four five-dollar bills in return?   The “Blaine Amendment” bears the name of James G. Blaine, 1884’s Republican Presidential candidate who lost to Grover Cleveland after one of his supporters – a Presbyterian minister – made the political blunder of accusing the Democrats of being the party of “rum, Romanism, and rebellion.” The so-called “Blaine Amendments,” which soon thereafter popped up in a number of state constitutions around the country, is a vestige of the late 19th Century’s anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant bigotry fueled in part by massive immigration from Catholic countries.Florida’s Constitution contains just such a provision; however, voters will have an opportunity to correct this through a proposed amendment in 2012 unless opponents are successful in their suit to have it thrown off the ballot, alleging a violation of church-state separation and a “misleading” ballot summary. It is disappointing to see the Florida Education Association, which includes many observant Catholics and members of other faiths that operate schools, now engaged in a legal skirmish to keep this relic of bigotry in the charter of Florida government.