Oklahoma City — A ballot question in Oklahoma this year asks voters if the state should repeal a section of its constitution that prohibits government funds from going to religious schools or institutions.
Ballot Question 790 essentially puts the Blaine Amendment up for vote. The amendment is named after U.S. Rep. James G. Blaine of Maine, who tried unsuccessfully in 1875 to push a federal constitutional amendment to block federal funds from going to religious organizations. After his efforts failed, states passed the amendment to their constitutions.
Currently, 37 states have provisions of the Blaine Amendment in place restricting government aid to religious schools or institutions beyond the limits set by the U.S. Constitution.
If Oklahomans vote yes on Question 790, the amendment would be repealed; a no vote would leave it in place.
If repealed, the U.S. constitutional prohibition against the use of taxpayer money to support worship services or proselytizing would not be affected. Religiously affiliated service providers also will still be required to ensure they did not discriminate in the delivery of services. However, the state will no longer be able to block taxpayer funds from going to organizations that provide cost-effective services to Oklahoma residents simply because the services are religiously based.
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Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley, who wrote about the issue in an Oct. 16 column in the Sooner Catholic, the archdiocesan newspaper, encouraged Catholics to consider the issue carefully before heading to the polls.
He said if the amendment is repealed, "Oklahomans would remove a current major threat to religious organizations — including Catholic social service agencies — who serve the poor, refugees, the disabled, the homeless, the hungry and many other needy people in our state."
The archbishop said in recent years the state's Blaine Amendment has been "weaponized by groups who want to keep religious organizations from providing social services solely because they are religious."
He also said the amendment has "created artificial and completely unnecessary barriers to providing help to the neediest among us, including children with disabilities."
If the amendment were strictly applied in the way some groups have asked that it be, he said, it would be "devastating to Catholic and other religious hospitals, social service agencies like Catholic Charities, homeless shelters, halfway houses for released inmates, substance abuse programs and the like."
He also noted that repealing the amendment would "right a historical wrong," stating that the amendment was one of a series of state constitutional provisions "designed to exclude Catholics from providing religious education and from public life more generally."
Repealing it, he said, "would remove this black mark on Oklahoma's history."