The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments for a second time in a case challenging the state’s textbook lending program. In 2015, the court ruled the program violated the state’s Blaine Amendment because it allowed students at religious schools to participate. The U.S. Supreme Court asked the New Mexico justices to reconsider their decision after the high court issued its landmark ruling in Trinity Lutheran v. Comer, another case involving a state Blaine Amendment.
Blaine Amendments date back to the 19th century, when lawmakers in almost every state adopted them as a way to target the spread of Catholic schools and other institutions. Broadly speaking, they prevent government money from going to religious organizations, even if it’s for neutral purposes. In Trinity Lutheran, the Supreme Court ruled Missouri could not exclude a church school from a playground resurfacing grant program.
Public school supporters routinely use Blaine Amendments to block school choice programs that allow students to use taxpayer money to pay for private education. School choice advocates insist the programs should not dictate to parents where they can use the funds. The New Mexico case could help settle that argument. After last week’s oral arguments, Eric Baxter, senior counsel at religious liberty law firm Becket, hinted at the case’s broader implications: “A science textbook is a science textbook no matter whose shelf it’s on. It’s time to stop discriminating and give all kids equal access to the best educational opportunities.”
The New Mexico Supreme Court will issue a decision later this year. —L.J.