Private schools suing the state for access to millions of dollars in public funds have urged a federal judge to help South Carolina move past “mistakes of its past” by forcing the money to be distributed to dozens of people. ‘independent schools.
US District Judge Bruce Hendricks heard arguments from religious institutions on May 3 in Charleston seeking a preliminary injunction to circumvent the “Blaine Amendment,” which prohibits private schools from receiving public funds.
The amendment, which dates back to 1895, historically prevents black colleges and universities and Catholic schools from receiving “fair and equitable access” to funding for COVID-19 emergency relief, said Daniel Suhr, lawyer for the plaintiffs.
Suhr, an attorney for the Liberty Justice Center based in Washington, DC, claims the amendment is racist.
During the hearing, Suhr said he realized it was “no small feat” to ask the court to withdraw an amendment from the state constitution.
“South Carolina has come a long way since 1895,” Suhr said. “But while the state has come a long way, its past is still with us.”
The Liberty Justice Center recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston, which oversees 33 schools with more than 7,000 students across South Carolina, and the nonprofit SC Independent Colleges and Universities which represents 20 schools. .
Court intervention is urgent as religious and historically black schools risk losing up to $ 34 million in federal funds in COVID-19 humanitarian aid, reserved for schools by the governor, if the court does not act before May 11, which is the federal deadline for awarding the money, the lawyers wrote in their request for a preliminary injunction.
Governor Henry McMaster, as well as the executive director of the State Department of Administration and the director of the budget, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
The case is the result of frustration over the state’s Supreme Court decision in December to reject the governor’s plan to spend federal money on coronaviruses on private school tuition scholarships, said attorney Thomas Limehouse Jr., representing McMaster.
The move also put McMaster’s ability to award vouchers to private schools at risk. The governor included $ 14 million in lottery money to be allocated for private school vouchers in a budget proposal for the coming year.
The governor received discretionary funds from the CARES Act from the federal government to provide pandemic education assistance in March 2020. McMaster wanted to give $ 32 million to private schools to help low- and middle-income families. It has also set aside $ 2.4 million for eight HBCUs in support of access to digital education.
The governor, who disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling, has warned the state’s highest court of the serious implications the ruling could have on independent colleges and universities trying to gain access to the CARES law money, Limehouse said. However, the governor took an oath to apply the law, Limehouse said.
Limehouse also argued that the plaintiffs had no legal rights to the discretionary funds.
“We’re all stuck with the (Supreme Court) decision now,” Limehouse said.
The arguments will be taken under advisement and the court will proceed within the “next few days,” Hendricks said.
The religious groups are targeting former prominent South Carolina politician Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman and the “Blaine Amendment,” named after US Representative James Blaine.
Under the guise of safeguarding American values, Blaine and the American Protective Association have defended constitutional amendments to prohibit public funds from “sectarian” schools, the plaintiffs said.
The plaintiffs argued that the 1895 SC Constitution incorporated this provision, according to court records. The plaintiffs said that “Pitchfork Ben’s racial fanaticism aligned well with the anti-Catholic fanaticism of other delegates” to produce a ban on taxpayer funds going directly or indirectly to “sectarian” religious institutions, including institutions educational.
A Baptist pantry, a Catholic hospital and a Muslim mosque can all receive taxpayer-funded COVID-19 relief, but not a school or university affiliated with one of those religions, the complainants said.
Reach Rickey dennis at 937-4886. Follow him on Twitter @RCDJunior.