Representative Elaine Price presents House Joint Resolution 1 in the state affairs committee on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.

First Step in Effort to Repeal the Blaine Amendment Delayed

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BOISE, IDAHO – On Tuesday, January 30, 2024, the Idaho House State Affairs Committee unanimously agreed to delay a vote on House Joint Resolution 1 (HJR1) which seeks to repeal Section 5, Article IX, commonly referred to as the Blaine Amendment, from the Idaho State Constitution.

Section 5, Article IX is titled “Sectarian Appropriations Prohibited,” and has been used to prohibit any funding “to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church, sectarian or religious denomination whatsoever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property ever be made by the state, or any such public corporation, to any church or for any sectarian or religious purpose.”

Therefore, the language of the Blaine Amendment blocks state monies from flowing to private schools in Idaho, most of which have religious affiliations. 

Proponents of HJR1 believe recent rulings by the United States Supreme Court make this portion of the state’s constitution inconsistent with the First Amendment.

Kathryn Hartley, a Coeur d’Alene attorney with the Pacific Justice Institute which specializes in First Amendment issues and religious freedom, spoke in support of the resolution. “When government entities operate under the misguided belief that there must be strict separation of government and religion, this communicates a message that disfavors religion and the First Amendment doesn’t allow this,” stated Hartley.

“When the state conditions a benefit on whether or not a person or an entity is religious, it is unconstitutional,” continued Harley. “The state is supposed to be neutral on the issue of religion, and this is not neutral. This is hostile towards religion, of all kinds, and singles out the religious for disfavored treatment.”

Hartley referenced rulings by the United States Supreme Court where it declared that when states appropriate monies for educational purposes, then the state could not discriminate against parents who choose to use those funds for schools with religious teachings.

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Idaho Family Policy Center lobbied in favor of the resolution, sending Grace Howat to speak before the committee. “According to Chief Justice John Roberts, the Blaine Amendment was born of bigotry and arose at a time of pervasive hostility toward the Catholic church,” Howat stated. “It’s time to ask the people of Idaho whether this backwards and unconstitutional provision should remain enshrined in our most sacred civil document.”

Opponents of HJR1 are concerned that repealing the Blaine Amendment would result in less funding for public schools. 

Nancy Gregory, a Boise school trustee and former president of the Idaho School Board Association, gave testimony stating the repeal would pave the way for education savings plans or tax voucher programs. “Since Idaho does not currently fund any K-12 private schools, this legislation is not necessary and could open the door wide to funding private and parochial schools,” stated Gregory.

Representative John Gannon (D-Boise) asked about the financial ramifications of repeal and how the state would define religions for eligibility of state support.

The resolution is sponsored by Representative Elaine Price (R-Coeur d’Alene) and Senator Brian Lenney (R-Nampa).

A resolution to amend the Idaho Constitution must first pass both the house and the senate by a two-thirds vote in each chamber, and then be placed on the general election ballot in an even-numbered year and receive at least 50 percent of the vote to pass. Should HJR1 receive the require support in both chambers, it will be on the November 2024 election ballot throughout Idaho.

This video provides the full hearing of the Idaho House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday, January 30, 2024.