Today is a great day for religious freedom, parental rights and school choice

Today is a great day for religious freedom, parental rights and school choice. This morning the United States Supreme Court released an opinion in the case of Carson v Makin. The case is from Maine and involves the state of Maine’s use of vouchers to provide education to children in rural parts of the state without access to a public school. The state of Maine applied the program discriminatorily and precluded religious affiliated schools from participating.

The Supreme Court weighed in and said that was a violation of the First Amendment. In writing their opinion, the Supreme Court was unequivocal in their rebuke of states’ Blaine Amendments. Blaine Amendments were passed in many states throughout the country around the turn of the 20th Century in the midst of widespread anti-Catholic fervor.

The irony should not be missed as the Blaine for which Blaine Amendments are named was a man from Maine. It’s poetic justice that his legacy of discrimination die in a case from his home state.

Idaho’s Blaine Amendment is found in Article IX, Section 6, which reads:

Section 6.  RELIGIOUS TEST AND TEACHING IN SCHOOL PROHIBITED. No religious test or qualification shall ever be required of any person as a condition of admission into any public educational institution of the state, either as teacher or student; and no teacher or student of any such institution shall ever be required to attend or participate in any religious service whatever. No sectarian or religious tenets or doctrines shall ever be taught in the public schools, nor shall any distinction or classification of pupils be made on account of race or color. No books, papers, tracts or documents of a political, sectarian or denominational character shall be used or introduced in any schools established under the provisions of this article, nor shall any teacher or any district receive any of the public school moneys in which the schools have not been taught in accordance with the provisions of this article.

The enormity and importance of this opinion can not be overstated. Since statehood, anti-school choice obstructionists have used the Blaine Amendment as a shield to defend their otherwise indefensible, hate-filled and discriminatory position. That shield is gone and that day is over. Blaine Amendments are dead once and for all. School choice is alive. And soon every parent and child will be freed from the captivity of their zip code and bank account to choose the school that works best for them.

So what is next? With the eradication of some of the worst of the Idaho Senate, including the worst of the worst in the Senate Education Committee (not to include Chairman Thayn), we now have a golden opportunity to blaze a new path forward. An uncompromising push for universal school choice next legislative session.

Done right, a school choice plan can and will actually better meet the constitutional imperative found in Article IX, Section 1, which calls for ” a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” That constitutional mandate is not inconsistent with school choice where money follows students. It never has been and anyone telling you differently is either ignorant, deliberately trying to mislead or both.

This will take real leadership, not just from elected officials, but also from parents, grandparents, and other taxpayers. We must be the architects of our destiny. We must put pressure on our elected leaders to undo more than a century of discrimination and do the right thing – pass universal school choice.

Branden Durst

Branden Durst

Branden Durst is a former Idaho representative and senator and superintendent of the West Bonner County School District.

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