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Compass: Cut 'Blaine Amendment' from state constitution

Our founding fathers recognized that there is such a thing as self-evident truth and so they based our country on this ideal.

One self-evident truth is that parents have the right to oversee the education of their own children. Although widely recognized when our public system of education was first created, it was gradually replaced by the idea that government knows best when it comes to the education of our children.

Many parents are starting to question this and instead want to exercise their right to choose what is best for their own child.

But there is a problem.

Upon entering the union, states like Alaska placed in their constitutions language derived from a failed amendment to the United States Constitution. This Blaine Amendment, as it was called, was an attempt to enshrine religious discrimination into our country's founding document and ensure that most parents would have no real say over the direction of their child's education.

In Alaska's case, the language resides in Article Seven, Section One, of our state constitution: "No money shall be paid from public funds for the direct benefit of any religious or other private educational institution."

It is fascinating to read the minutes of Day 48 of the Constitutional Convention regarding this simple line. It was not required language, but supporters of the failed Blaine Amendment had been successful in slipping this line into many state constitutions.

Because Alaskans took the bold move of writing our own constitution before we were even invited to join the union, our Constitutional Convention delegates were careful to study other state constitutions. Since the models used contained this language, it was deemed prudent to include it.

To my mind the far seeing heroes who emerged from these Day 48 deliberations were Barrie White and Vic Fischer, both of whom tried to have this line struck from the draft. Mr. White had previously made the point that a number of religious and other private institutions were already successfully educating students with the support of public money in Territorial Alaska and he feared that this would be threatened. Mr. Fischer considered this sentence to be an unwise and discriminatory restriction on education that other public purposes did not have. Both men failed to convince the majority but history has proven them right in their analyses.

What is most interesting is that the Alaska Supreme Court in its decision Sheldon Jackson College vs. State of Alaska, misconstrued the positions of these two men in wanting to strike the offending line.

This leaves Alaskans with only one alternative: We must amend our constitution to remove the Blaine Amendment language. House Joint Resolution 1 allows us the possibility of achieving this.

Removing this language will not accomplish school choice. It won't impose anything. But it removes a discriminatory clause from our state constitution that is out of line with the U.S. Constitution, thus restoring our ability to freely debate ways to publicly support parental choice and educational improvement. This can only benefit parents, children, and teachers.

Isn't it time that we Alaskans put teeth into our motto that we don't care how they do it Outside? Let's take the lead on educational reform.

Kristina Johannes is a small business owner in Anchorage. She has testified in favor of removing the Blaine Amendment from Alaska's Constitution before several committees of the Alaska Legislature.