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Idaho Senate introduces measure to allow public funding of religious schools

Thomas Hawk

A far-right state senator wants to amend Idaho’s constitution to allow public funds to go to religious schools.

Sen. Brian Lenney (R-Nampa) introduced his proposal as simply removing a “dead letter” from Idaho’s constitution.

“The Blaine Amendment is a relic of religious bigotry that prohibits funds, state funds I should say, from flowing to sectarian organizations,” Lenney said during Monday’s brief introductory hearing.

As of 2020, 37 states had such amendments in their respective constitutions, according to Ballotpedia. It’s named after Congressman James Blaine of Maine, who served in the 1870s, who tried and failed to include it in the U.S. Constitution.

While Lenney says the U.S. Supreme Court rendered these amendments void, that’s not entirely true.

In the 2020 case Espinoza vs. Montana Department of Revenue, Chief Justice John Roberts’ majority opinion said states can’t discriminate against religious schools if they offer scholarships to other private schools.

But Roberts said states aren’t required to subsidize private education. Idaho currently doesn’t offer such voucher programs, though Lenney and other newly elected Republicans hope to establish such a system.

According to an Idaho Statesman poll conducted last year, nearly two-thirds of respondents opposed public money funding a student's private education — including 66% of Republicans and 71% of Democrats.

If passed by two-thirds of both the House and Senate, Lenney’s amendment would need a majority of voters to approve it before being enacted.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2023 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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