Press Release

Activists use Anti-Catholic Law to Block Low-Income Students from Educational Opportunities Becket Fund defends Nevada state educational savings program

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Ryan Colby 202-349-7219

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Becket is defending a Nevada state government program that provides low-income students with access to tutoring and other educational opportunities. But activist groups are fighting to end the program, relying on the state’s Blaine Amendment, a 19thcentury law with anti-Catholic roots that claims state funds can never be used toward educational opportunities that happen to be religiously affiliated. Becket filed a friend-of-the-court brief defending the program, arguing that this law discriminates against religious schools and should be struck from the books.

“Activist groups are treating religious schools and the students who choose to attend them like second-class citizens,” said Diana Verm, Legal Counsel of Becket. “It is deplorable to see a discriminatory 19th century law being used to prevent children from access to quality education simply because the school may have religious ties.”

The state of Nevada established the Education Savings Account (ESA) program in order to provide quality education to students of all incomes. The program allocates money into a specified bank account for each child that, similar to a medical flexible spending account, parents can use only for education expenses such as tuition for private schools, books and tutoring. Yet now, activist groups are suing to cancel the program and are relying on the Nevada Blaine Amendment—a law originally enacted with the purpose of shutting down an orphanage run by Catholic nuns—to argue that it should now keep parents from being able to choose their child’s school.

Becket filed an amicus brief in Duncan v. Nevada in Nevada state court, stating, “To claim that the ESA Program funds ‘sectarian’ purposes is simply a modern spin on the same discrimination that birthed the Blaine Amendments.”

Blaine Amendments prohibit the use of state funds for “sectarian” schools. In the 1880s, forbidding “sectarianism” meant forbidding Catholicism, but now activist groups are using the term to single out schools that are “too religious.” Both interpretations are in direct violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause. Becket is standing up to this blatant discrimination against religious schools and the students who choose them, and is urging the dismissal of this case.  

“It’s not the state’s role to protect kids from religious influence, Catholic or otherwise. Parents shouldn’t be limited by 19th century discrimination when they are deciding where to send their kids to school,” said Verm.

For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, please contact Melinda Skea at or 202.349.7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish.


Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions. For over 20 years, it has defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians. Its recent cases include three major Supreme Court victories: the landmark ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, and the 9-0 rulings in  Holt v. Hobbs and  Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, the latter of which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”