WASHINGTON -- The Georgia Senate has passed an amendment to the state constitution that would allow religious groups including churches, ministries, and schools to receive funding from the state with the vote of 40-14. They are waiting for the two-thirds vote from the House for ramification.
However the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that it still may be tough to face the Democrats who are in the process of passing alternative amendment prohibiting voucher programs to religious schools.
Currently, the relevant portion of the Georgia Constitution reads, "No money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect, cult, or religious denomination or of any sectarian institution."
Soon the amendment would add this: "Except as permitted or required by the United States Constitution, as amended."
The state allowed the religious groups to receive funding only when they carry out secular purposes. It was not allowed to fund religious groups for their religious activities such as worship and indoctrination. In terms of religious schools, the federal Constitution doesn’t allow any direct funding. Only through voucher-type scholarship programs that they could be funded. However according to Associated Baptist Press, Georgia and many other states have provisions in their state constitutions that specifically bar the state from funding churches and other religious groups -- even if such funding is done indirectly.
The state constitutional provisions prohibiting funding of religious groups are commonly grouped under the title "Blaine Amendments," after 19th-century U.S. Sen. James Blaine of Maine. He proposed a similar amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although it narrowly failed, many states modeled state provisions after “Blaine Amendments,” which is the title that encircles the state constitutional provisions prohibiting funding of religious group.
According to ABP, supporters of government funding for religious groups say Blaine amendments are vestiges of anti-Catholic sentiment that was rampant in the United States during the 1800s. But supporters of strict church-state separation say the amendments are useful in guaranteeing religious freedom today and often were instituted less out of anti-Catholic bias than in reaction to aggressive attempts by Catholic organizations to receive government funding.
The supporters of the amendment such as Gov. Sonny Perdue (R), have insisted it is not part of a plan to impose a state school-voucher program but rather to open up religious social-service providers to state funds. However, ABP says the spokesperson of Perdue said the amendment would open the legal door to a future voucher proposal.