North Dakota school choice bill is not about religion

Opponents to educational freedom are drumming up every possible reason to convince North Dakota leaders and Gov. Doug Burgum that an educational reimbursement program should be blocked.

This morning, Joel Heitkamp used his show on KFGO radio to claim that HB 1532 violates Article VIII of the North Dakota Constitution. Article VIII states that, “No money raised for the support of the public schools of the state shall be appropriated to or used for the support of any sectarian school.”

But HB 1532 is not about religion, and in fact makes no references to religion or a religious affiliation, staying neutral on the topic, as it should.

In addition, the language in the North Dakota Constitution on the funding bans for sectarian schools — more commonly referred to as a Blaine amendment — can no longer be wielded to prevent families from accessing school choice options, as ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote, “The Blaine Amendment was ‘born of bigotry’ and ‘arose at a time of pervasive hostility to the Catholic Church and to Catholics in general’; many of its state counterparts have a similarly ‘shameful pedigree.’” He added, “A State need not subsidize private education. But once a State decides to do so, it cannot disqualify some private schools solely because they are religious.”

Because HB 1532 is about nonpublic schools in general, it is not in violation of the state’s constitution. A secular private school that specializes in, say, therapeutic services qualifies under the bill in the same way a private school with a religious affiliation qualifies.

Please consider reaching out to Gov. Burgum’s office and encouraging him to put North Dakota students first and sign HB 1532 into law.