To the editor:
Justice John Lewis of the Strafford County (N.H.) Superior Court recently proclaimed that the use of Education Tax Credit Scholarships at religiously affiliated schools is unconstitutional.
In his ruling, he cited Article 83 in the New Hampshire Constitution, often referred to as “The Blaine Amendment,” which says that “no money raised by taxation shall ever be granted or applied for the use of the schools or institutions of any religious sect or denomination.”
This is a strange precedent to use because when this amendment first appeared in 1877, the state constitution elsewhere required citizens “to make adequate provision at their own expense, for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.”
This wording was eliminated in the 1968 revision of the state constitution “to remove obsolete sectarian references,” but the equally obsolete Blaine Amendment was somehow retained.
The Blaine Amendment was passed at a time in the 19th century when anti-Catholic sentiment was high and the King James (non-Catholic) Bible was still read widely in the overwhelmingly Protestant-influenced public schools.
It is hypocritical for Justice Lewis to cite this article as a reason why Education Tax Credit Scholarships should be restricted to non-sectarian schools.
It is also irrelevant, since the funds are donated by private businesses as pre-tax dollars, the same as other donations to charities.
The legislation providing for Education Tax Credit Scholarships was intended to allow parents to make a choice as to what type of school they wanted their children to go to, whether it be a public school in another school district, a secular private school, a school that reinforces their religious beliefs, or even home-schooling.
The government is not forcing parents to choose a particular religious school, so “the separation of church and state,” a phrase overused by opponents of Education Tax Credit Scholarships, is not violated.
The Supreme Court case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris (2002) has already upheld this same argument, as have at least 10 other states where this issue has been debated, so certainly the non-voucher, privately funded Education Tax Credit Scholarships are constitutional.
The decision of Justice Lewis is expected to be appealed to the New Hampshire Supreme
Court and, if legal precedents truly matter, his unwise decision will be overturned.
Arlene R. Quaratiello