Freedom of Religion: Locke v. Davey and State Blaine Amendments

By Douglas F. Johnson | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

Everyone in the United States of America, it is to be hoped, is familiar with the phrase “freedom of religion.” This principle, recognized in the First Amendment, is considered one of the basic rights and freedoms that define what it means to be an American. A related concept, typically presented in the phrase “freedom from religion,” is associated with the present and often identified with atheists, agnostics, and secularists, has not received formal recognition by the Courts as part of First Amendment jurisprudence. At the same time, the controversy surrounding the Nineteenth Century Blaine Amendments demonstrates that the basic concerns of “freedom from religion” were lively well before the current controversies surrounding state Blaine Amendments as illustrated in Locke v. Davey.

This work examines the implications for state legislatures, courts, and educational policy makers of the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Locke v. Davey as it applies to state “Blaine Amendments.” The Locke decision upheld the denial of a Promise Scholarship to Joshua Davey because he chose to declare a major in preparation for Christian ministry. Davey’s supporters argued that the denial of the scholarship represented discrimination against religion based on Article I, Section 11 of the Washington Constitution; a so-called “Blaine Amendment.” Blaine Amendments are found in at least thirty state constitutions, and Blaine opponents argue that these clauses are legacies of Nineteenth Century anti-Catholic hostility and should be declared unconstitutional. Many state constitutions contain Blaine language, and those clauses often influence state funding programs such as school voucher programs and faith-based initiatives, therefore, the Court’s determination that the Washington clause in question was not a “Blaine Amendment” despite using Blaine language has important implications for state policy makers.

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