New Documentary Highlights Impact of Bigoted “Blaine Amendments”

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Read op-eds about the film, by Raymond Flynn, former Ambassador to the Holy See, and Pioneer’s Jamie Gass in The Daily Caller, The Lowell Sun, and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.

Constitutional amendments in 38 states born of anti-Catholic bigotry now harm families practicing wide range of faiths

BOSTON – A new documentary film, “Big Sacrifices, Big Dreams: Ending America’s Bigoted Education Laws,” profiles four American families, two from Massachusetts, whose pursuit of educational opportunity is impeded by so-called Blaine Amendments, which prohibit state money from supporting students in religiously affiliated schools.

Four area Catholic schools will hold screenings of the film during National School Choice Week, beginning January 21st, and Catholic Schools Week, beginning January 28th. It will be shown at Fontbonne Academy in Milton on January 23rd, Boston College High School on January 29th, Marian High School in Framingham on January 30th, and Bishop Connolly High School in Fall River on February 1st.

The events will feature Raymond Flynn, former Ambassador to the Holy See and former Mayor of Boston. A longtime champion of the poor, Ambassador Flynn is a leading lay Catholic voice in the United States, a best-selling author of The Accidental Pope and John Paul II: A Personal Portrait of the Pope and the Man, as well as a frequent newspaper columnist, national TV analyst, and national talk show host. Flynn graduated from Providence College as a Dean’s List All-American-Academic. He earned a Master’s degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

He will be joined by Catholic school leaders and education policy experts.

There are 38 states with constitutions that contain Blaine Amendments. They are named after James Blaine, a U.S. senator from Maine who pushed for the adoption of a national Anti-Aid constitutional amendment during the 1870s.

Massachusetts has the nation’s oldest such amendment, which was adopted during the 1850s, when state government was under the control of the “Know Nothing” party. This virulently anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant group briefly flourished after the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s triggered a wave of immigration to Massachusetts. An updated amendment was adopted in 1917, during another uptick in nativism in the Bay State.

The amendments may have been the result of anti-Catholic bigotry, but today they prevent Jews, Muslims, evangelical Christians, and private school parents of many other faiths from sending their children to schools that reflect their values.

“These families pay their taxes,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios. “But, unlike state and federal loans and scholarships for higher education across America, they receive no public accommodations to send their children to the schools they choose, even though tuition at those schools is often a fraction of the per-pupil cost of K-12 public education.”

One of the families profiled is a single mother originally from Brazil who lives in Framingham with her three daughters. The family struggles to send the oldest daughter, an evangelical Christian, to a local Catholic high school. The student prefers the school to the public elementary and middle schools she previously attended because it supports her in her faith and has a strict community service requirement that aligns with her priorities.

Michigan has the nation’s newest Blaine Amendment, adopted in 1970. Like Massachusetts’ amendments, it is also one of the most restrictive. A Midland couple fighting to afford sending their three children to a high-performing Baptist school is among the families profiled.

Georgia is another Blaine Amendment state. The documentary highlights a single mother sending her two daughters to a Christian academy. The students joined the defendants in a lawsuit that challenged a state program under which donors to scholarship programs receive tax credits. The scholarship funds were then distributed to families who use the money to send their children to the schools they choose. The defendants prevailed when the tax credit program was upheld by the state Supreme Court.

The other family profiled is a couple with six children ranging in age from four to 14 who struggle to send their kids to a Catholic school in Fall River, Massachusetts.

“The Know-Nothing, or Blaine Amendments, prevent more than 100,000 families in Massachusetts cities with chronically underperforming schools from receiving scholarship vouchers or education tax credits that would grant them greater school choice,” said Jamie Gass, Pioneer’s director of the Center for School Reform. “These shameful 19th- and 20th-century amendments insult the integrity of public education; their infamous legacy endures in the constitutions of numerous states.”

About Pioneer

Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.

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