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Why Nineteenth Century Bans on “Sectarian” Aid Are Facially Unconstitutional: New Evidence on Plain Meaning

Why Nineteenth Century Bans on “Sectarian” Aid Are Facially Unconstitutional: New Evidence on Plain Meaning

Federalist Society editor’s note: This article presents original research on the nineteenth century meaning of the word sectarian. The author argues that, based on this new evidence, bans on sectarian aid in state constitutions—often called Blaine Amendments—are likely unconstitutional on their face because they discriminate among religions.

In Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer the Supreme Court struck down a Missouri state policy of restricting religious institutions from participating in grant programs. The policy arose from the state government’s efforts to comply with its state constitution’s prohibition on use of public funds to benefit “any church, sect or denomination of religion.”

Many states have prohibitions even broader than the one in the Missouri constitution. Most state constitutions adopted during the nineteenth century, unlike that currently prevailing in Missouri, identified their proscribed recipients and purposes as sectarian. This was true of Missouri’s superseded 1875 charter, and it is also true of charters under which many states still operate.

Read the whole article originally published by the Federalist Society on January 8, 2018.

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Rob Natelson
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