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Lawsuit fighting SC ban on private school funding supported by Christian schools group

St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Greenville, S.C.

A statue of St. Anthony of Padua welcomes visitors to the Catholic Church named for him in Greenville on April 14, 2021. The Liberty Justice Center announced at the school that its legal team would be representing the South Carolina diocese of the Catholic Church and 20 private colleges and universities statewide in a federal lawsuit challenging the so-called "Blaine Amendment" in the state's constitution. The amendment bans public funds from being shared with private schools. File/Anna B. Mitchell/Staff

GREENVILLE — A group of Christian schools in South Carolina submitted a friend of the court brief in support of a recent federal lawsuit that calls for a revision of the state's constitutional ban on public funds for private schools.

The S.C. Association of Christian Schools on April 26 filed an amicus brief in support of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which operates 33 private schools with more than 7,000 students, and co-plaintiffs, the 20 members of S.C. Independent Colleges and Universities, according to a statement from The Liberty Justice Center. The amicus brief from SCACS adds 69 schools to the call for constitutional change in the Palmetto State.

An attorney for the Liberty Justice Center, Daniel Suhr, is lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

"Their brief adds momentum to our case and proves yet again why a federal court must act to end a century of legalized discrimination," Suhr said in a statement.

Proponents of change say provisions in the S.C. Constitution that ban public money for religious and other private schools trace back to an anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic and racist movement in the 19th century. So-called "Blaine amendments," named after Maine politician James G. Blaine, that ban state money to religious institutions made their way into dozens of state constitutions.

Proponents for constitutional change also argue private schools often provide services that public schools cannot or will not.

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Supporters of the state constitution as written say Article XI's focus on private schools in general rather than religious schools in particular, a point clarified in a 1972 amendment, protects limited state tax funds for universal access to education. Diverting funds from public schools for private programs would, they argue, exacerbate already unequal access to educational resources. Article XI supporters also point out that public schools have a mandate not shared by private schools to teach every child who enrolls, regardless of disability or income.

“No money shall be paid from public funds nor shall the credit of the State or any of its political subdivisions be used for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution," the state constitution currently reads.

The SCACS brief argues that Article XI has perpetuated what it calls long-standing discrimination.

"When religious schools are excluded from neutral public benefits due to unconstitutional restrictions such as South Carolina’s Blaine Amendment, in many cases access to schools other than the very schools determined to be failing students is all but eliminated, especially for lower-income families," the brief says.

Follow Anna B. Mitchell on Twitter at @AnnaBard2U.

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