April 23, 2024
Funds

Idaho’s constitution prohibits state funds from going to religious institutions. A proposed bill would change that


BOISE, Idaho — This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.

A legislator brought back a proposal to repeal the part of Idaho’s Constitution that prohibits state funds from going to religious institutions.

Rep. Elaine Price, R-Coeur d’Alene, in House State Affairs on Thursday introduced legislation that would remove a section from the Idaho Constitution that’s known as the Blaine Amendment, which says in part that public funds may not go to, “any church or sectarian or religious society, or for any sectarian or religious purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church, sectarian or religious denomination whatsoever.”

Constitutional amendments must pass by two-thirds majorities in both chambers and then be approved by Idaho voters, so if her bill were passed, the question would be put on the ballot in November.

“Recent court rulings have rendered it null and void,” Price told the committee, alluding to U.S. Supreme Court rulings originating in Montana and Maine from 2020 and 2022 that ruled if states provide funds to private schools then religious schools must also be considered.

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, asked Price if the court decisions would only be applicable if Idaho were to provide money to private schools.

Price responded that Idaho has scholarships and grants that may go to private schools now; Idaho has scholarships for higher education that may go to College of Idaho or Northwest Nazarene University. The Idaho Launch grant can also go to private and religious colleges.

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said he would vote to introduce the legislation so it may get a hearing but that he had “huge reservations about this.”

Price and Sen. Brian Lenney, R-Nampa, made similar legislative proposals last year, which never made it out of their committees.

THE BLAINE AMENDMENT AND ‘SCHOOL CHOICE’

This section of the Idaho Constitution has been targeted by those seeking to implement programs that would allow state funds to go toward private school tuition; if Idaho were to do this, then the state would need to make the funds available to religious schools as well.

Supporters of past legislation had said they would prefer to send their children to private religious schools because they were unhappy with public schools.

Opponents of this concept argue that Idaho inadequately funds its public schools, which it’s constitutionally obligated to do, and these proposals could end up siphoning money into private and religious institutions that don’t have reporting requirements.

Former attorney general Jim Jones has been a vocal opponent of moves to allow K-12 funding to go toward private schools. In 2022, after one of the Supreme Court decisions on this topic, Jones told the Idaho Press that until the state adequately funds its public education system, “we have no business providing funding to private schools or church-sponsored schools.”

He said Thursday that the amendment applies program by program.

“The Blaine Amendment is not voided for all state programs just because one program allows public funds for a particular purpose,” Jones wrote in an email.

The office of former attorney general Lawrence Wasden wrote a 2020 opinion that the Supreme Court decision in Montana had a had a significant impact on Article IX, Section 5 of the Idaho Constitution.

“Attorney General (Raúl) Labrador agrees with the analysis in that opinion,” attorney general office spokesperson Dan Estes wrote in an email. “In essence, if the State of Idaho adopts a law that gives a government benefit to a private entity and denies that same benefit to a religious entity solely on the basis that it IS a religious entity, that law could be found to be unconstitutional. Of course, the Idaho Legislature can initiate the process of removing a section of the Idaho Constitution at any time.”

This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press, read more on IdahoPress.com.

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