Public Financing of Religious Schools: Justice Clarence Thomas's 'Bigotry Thesis'

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United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for a plurality of the Court in Mitchell v. Helms in 2000, advanced the idea that state constitutional prohibitions against public funding of religious schools were manifestations of anti-Catholic bigotry in the late 19th century. Thomas's reading of history and law led him to believe that James G. Blaine, a political leader in the United States of that era who advanced a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have prohibited states from funding Catholic schools, was himself imbued with anti-Catholic bigotry and that his proposed amendment was a well-spring of religious intolerance that today, prevents public funding of Catholic schools. This article attempts to look further into the issue to determine whether Thomas's understanding is accurate and whether it comports with the reality of conditions of the era, and whether Blaine in fact had such motivations as ascribed to him by Justice Thomas. The article concludes that Thomas's view is overly simplistic and is based on an insular perception of Protestant versus Catholic intolerance in the United States, and leaves out of consideration the fact that the real and larger issue of the era in the Western world was the struggle between secularism and sectarianism, modernity and tradition, science and superstition, and individual liberty and clerical control.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)156-178
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Education Finance
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2008

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