Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Public Financing of Religious Schools: James G. Blaine and Justice Clarence Thomas' 'Bigotry Thesis

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Public Financing of Religious Schools: James G. Blaine and Justice Clarence Thomas' 'Bigotry Thesis

Article excerpt

Abstract

United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas writing for a plurality of the Court in Mitchell v. Helms in 2000 advanced the idea that state constitutional prohibitions against public funding of religious schools were manifestations of anti-Catholic bigotry in the late 19th century. Thomas. reading of history and law led him to believe that James G. Blaine a political leader in the United States of that era who advanced a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have prohibited states from funding Catholic schools was himself imbued with anti-Catholic bigotry and that his proposed amendment was a well-spring of religious intolerance that today prevents public funding of Catholic schools. This article attempts to look further into the issue to determine whether Thomas. understanding is accurate and whether it comports with the reality of conditions of the era and whether Blaine in fact had such motivations as ascribed to him by Justice Thomas. The article concludes that Thomas. view is overly simplistic and is based on an insular perception of Protestant versus Catholic intolerance in the United States and leaves out of consideration the fact that the real and larger issue of the era in the western world was the struggle between secularism and sectarianism, modernity and tradition, science and superstition, and individual liberty and clerical control. Importantly, the article concludes that Thomas's narrow thesis ignores international dimensions of conflicts of the era that pitted the impulse of nationalism and republican government against control of ecclesiastics regardless of whether they were Catholic or Protestant. Such conflicts. prevailed especially over control of education, throughout Europe, as well as the United States, and were even more intense in countries that where the people were predominately Catholic, such as Italy and France, than in the United States and where the majority of the citizenry adhered to Protestantism. Thus, this paper concludes that the motivation of Blaine and others who sought to prevent religious control of education by denial of public funding to clerical institutions was part of a trend in the western world to advance nationalism and to reduce internal divisiveness, religious, ethnic or racial, to build unity--e pluribus unum.

Introduction

During the past decade religion and politics have been entwined as seldom before in America. Religion has embroiled government in the continuing battle to overturn Roe v. Wade, to control stem cell research, to restrain the teaching of natural selection in public schools, as well as in a host of so-called family value issues. Religious interests have even been invoked in attempts to debunk global warming and to paradoxically advance an unbridled form of self-interested capitalism. While these issues have taken center stage, the U.S. Supreme Court has methodically reversed the legal precedents that formed the foundation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment that had preserved the separation of church and state in America for 200 years.

The Rehnquist Court, case by case, effectively leveled the wall of separation ensured by earlier court interpretations of the Establishment Clause. By the time that Chief Justice Rehnquist died in 2005, the Court had not only negated virtually all constitutional barriers that prevented the use of public money for support of religious institutions, including the so-called faith-based enterprises, but had by dictum further suggested the feasibility of a federal constitutional rationale to strike down state constitutional prohibitions against the public funding of religious establishments as well. Rehnquist, along with Justices Thomas, Kennedy and Scalia, advanced the idea that those state constitutions that forbid the use of public funds to aid religious foundations, schools and institutions, effectively, by such denial, may violate the Free Exercise Clause of the U. …

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