Attorney general seeks to intervene in Blaine Amendment lawsuit

Attorney General Raúl Labrador’s office is seeking to intervene in a lawsuit challenging Idaho’s Blaine Amendment, a constitutional provision that blocks public funds from benefitting religious organizations, including schools. 

The lawsuit — filed in the U.S. District Court for Idaho — stems from a Middleton church’s former lease to use meeting space in a public charter school. In April, Truth Family Bible Church sued Sage International, a network of Treasure Valley schools, and the Idaho Housing and Finance Association

Truth Family alleged that its rights to free exercise of religion and speech were infringed when IHFA and Sage International relied on the Blaine Amendment to end the church’s lease. Truth Family asked the federal court to rule that Blaine violates the U.S. Constitution — both in the church’s specific case and in general.

On June 25, Labrador’s office filed a motion to join the case on behalf of the state. The intervention seeks to “ensure that the Idaho Constitution is not applied in a manner that violates fundamental rights,” wrote James Craig, chief of the AG’s Civil Litigation and Constitutional Defense division. 

In a separate filing, Craig opposed the church’s demand that the state be barred from enforcing the Blaine Amendment. And he argued that Blaine shouldn’t be “implicated” in this case.

The constitutional provision “is not implicated when a public entity, including a public school, rents a school facility to a church on the same terms as it would rent a school facility to any other non-religious organization,” Craig wrote. 

The lawsuit dropped amid a spate of challenges to so-called “no-aid provisions” like Idaho’s Blaine Amendment. A handful of Republican lawmakers have tried to repeal the Idaho provision, while U.S. Supreme Court rulings in recent years have weakened similar provisions in other states. 

Idaho’s Blaine Amendment has been a target among supporters of private school choice — an umbrella term referring to school vouchers, education savings accounts and tax credits that would use tax dollars to help families subsidize the cost of private school. Most private schools in Idaho are affiliated with a religious organization. 

The attorney general’s office requested to intervene in the case on behalf of the state, but not to represent IHFA. The “independent public body corporate and politic,” as it’s defined in Idaho law, is the state’s bonding authority. But it’s not a state agency, which would typically be represented by the attorney general in a lawsuit.

Instead, IHFA has hired private attorneys from Givens Pursley, a Boise law firm, according to court documents. Neither IHFA nor Sage International has responded to Truth Family’s complaint.

On Monday, Givens Pursley attorneys filed a notice declaring that IHFA doesn’t oppose the attorney general’s request to intervene in the case.

Further reading: New lawsuit challenges Idaho’s Blaine Amendment

Further reading: No, the Blaine Amendment isn’t ‘null and void.’ Here’s why

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday