WASHINGTON, Aug. 7 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering brief opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the second of two wrap-ups for Aug. 7.
The Acton Institute
(The Acton Institute works to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles. Its goal is to help build prosperity and progress on a foundation of religious liberty, economic freedom and personal moral responsibility.)
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.-- Bigotry: A threat to parental choice
By Phillip W. De Vous
With the beginning of the school year just a few weeks away, a judge has struck down Florida's voucher program due to a provision in the Florida state constitution forbidding the use of tax money to send children to religious schools.
With the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision stating that such a use of tax dollars does not violate the U.S. Constitution's establishment clause, it is clear that the battle over parental choice in education is far from over and is moving to the states.
Thirty-eight states have constitutional provisions that are more restrictive of taxpayer choice in education funding than is the U.S. Constitution.
These provisions, known as "Blaine amendments" explicitly prohibit or severely restrict a parent's choice in utilizing education tax dollars for the school of their choice, especially if it is a religious school.
These restrictions are based on an anti-religious bigotry over a century old and it's high time that state constitutions reject a bigoted policy that prevents millions of American children from receiving the best education possible.
On Dec. 14, 1875, former Speaker of the House of Representatives James G. Blaine proposed an amendment to the U.S. Constitution restricting the use of tax money for use in religious schools.
The amendment stated: "No state shall make any law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; and no money raised by taxation in any state for the support of public schools, or derived from any public fund therefore, nor any public lands devoted thereto, shall ever be under the control of any religious sect: nor shall any money raised or lands so devoted be divided among religious sects or denominations."
This amendment, of course, was not ratified and is not a part of the U.S. Constitution. Many states, however, riding the various waves of anti-Catholic fervor that often boiled to the surface in the political battles of that day, incorporated the ideas contained in Blaine's proposal into state constitutions.
Blaine's proposal had more to do with his political ambitions and his anti-Catholic bias than with any deeply held concern about preserving the integrity of the U.S. Constitution.
Blaine, who served as speaker of the House of Representatives, and later, with some distinction, as President James Garfield's secretary of state, was ambitious for the presidency. He tried for the Republican nomination for president in 1876, 1880, and finally attained it in 1884. Despite a strong race in 1884, he lost to Grover Cleveland.
Some historians of the era claim that he lost because of an inability to shake the appellation of "Blaine, Blaine, the continental liar from the state of Maine," given to him as a result of accusations of influence-peddling on behalf of the railroad interests. But there is more to the story.
Underlying much of his rhetoric throughout the 1884 campaign was a distinctly anti-Catholic tone. In some cases, it was quite explicit. The most famous expression came from a Blaine operative by the name of Samuel Buchard, of New York, who at a public rally referred to the Democrats as "the party of rum, Romanism and rebellion."
The remark, made in Blaine's presence, accurately summed up the tone of Blaine's campaign. His failure to repudiate the remark led to the alienation of the large Irish Catholic vote in New York. As a result, Blaine lost New York -- and the presidency.
Throughout his career, Blaine, despite his deftness and competence in matters of foreign policy, exhibited an anti-Catholic bigotry in his political views, especially in matters pertaining to educational choice and funding.
While there are many historical and political considerations as to why he viewed Catholics with the suspicion that he did, the enduring legacy of his religious bigotry is the enshrining in many state constitutions of severe restrictions on a parent's right to choose.
The Florida decision will certainly be open to appeal, and educational choice groups are already preparing the necessary briefs to challenge the Florida ruling.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has made its decision, the Florida decision indicates that the battle will shift to the states. While the Florida decision seems a step back for the educational choice movement, educational choice litigation looks promising in other states.
In Washington, another state with a fairly restrictive Blaine amendment, the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Evergreen State's policy of denying the use of state education scholarships to individuals studying to be pastors was unconstitutional.
The court's ruling stipulates: "A state law may not offer a benefit to all ... but exclude some on the basis of religion."
In this decision, known as Davey vs. Locke, Joshua Davey, who received a state scholarship based on academic merit and financial need, will be allowed to utilize his hard-won scholarship to study pastoral ministry at a theological faculty.
Explicit in this decision is the recognition of the U.S. Supreme Court's reasoning in Zelman vs. Simmons-Harris, which held that the religious mission of education dollars lies with an individual's choice, not with the government.
While this decision in Washington state sets a favorable precedent in the ongoing struggle to roll back the bigoted Blaine amendments, it is far from certain what the outcome in other states will be.
Blaine amendments in state constitutions are exactly that -- amendments. The original forms of most state constitutions contained a fairer treatment of religion and a broader understanding of educational choice -- indicating a better understanding of the foundational role that religion plays in the public square.
It is time to roll back the intended and unintended effects of a bigoted policy put forth more than a century ago. Such a move would constitute a return to a healthier understanding of the role of religion in public life, as well as a fundamental recognition of parents' right to direct the education of their children.
It is time that justice is done to those taxpayers currently discriminated against because they refuse to check their faith at the schoolhouse door.
(Phillip W. De Vous is the public policy manager at the Acton Institute.)
The National Center for Policy Analysis
(The NCPA is a non-profit, non-partisan public policy research institute that seeks innovative private-sector solutions to public policy problems.)
DALLAS, Tex.-- Daily Policy Digest: Funding terrorism
by Bruce Bartlett
High cigarette taxes are not just inefficient. They also help fund illegal and deadly organizations. Organized crime has been deeply involved in interstate smuggling for decades. However, recent sharp increases in state cigarette taxes have increased its involvement. For example:
-- The Washington Post report that a rise in Maryland's cigarette tax from 66 cents to $1 led to an immediate jump in smuggling. It also reported that "criminals who once dealt exclusively in illegal drugs are now smuggling cigarettes because it is so lucrative and punishments generally are much less severe."
-- The Detroit News story that quotes John D'Angelo of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms as saying: "There is no doubt that there's a direct relationship between the increase in a state's tax (and) an increase in illegal trafficking."
Nor is organized crime the only entity that profits from smuggling. Terrorists are getting into the game:
-- A member of Hezbollah was convicted in North Carolina of running a multimillion-dollar cigarette smuggling operation out of that state. When asked about similar activities in Maryland last year, State Comptroller William Donald Schaefer was quoted as saying: "We know that some of the money used by smugglers is directly passed on to terrorist organizations."
-- On July 3, The Guardian, a leading British newspaper, reported that the Irish Republican Army has joined with organized crime to raise millions of pounds through cigarette smuggling.
Many believe that increased enforcement will solve the smuggling problem. But authorities cannot even keep cigarettes out of prisons. A ban on smoking in New York State prisons pushed the price of smuggled cigarettes to $7 to $10 each. Smuggling of methadone and heroin dropped, displaced by the more valuable tobacco.
(Bruce Bartlett is a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.)