Betsy DeVos is opposed to separation of church and state. She thinks that state bans that prohibit the funding of religious schools should be ended. In a speech yesterday in New York City to the Alfred E. Smith Society, which is allied with the Archdiocese of New York, she said that such bans originated in anti-Catholic bigotry and should be eliminated.

DeVos noted that these amendments are still on the books in 37 states. And though she didn’t get into this in her speech, that includes her home state of Michigan. Back in 2000, DeVos helped lead an effort to change the state’s constitution to allow for school vouchers. It failed.

She said that “there’s hope that Blaine amendments won’t be around much longer.” She noted that last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for a state-funded playground restoration program in Columbia, Mo., to exclude a facility on the grounds of a church. (That case is Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Mo. v. Comer . More about it here.) School choice advocates are hoping that ruling will prod state lawmakers to re-examine Blaine amendments.

“These amendments should be assigned to the ash heap of history and this ‘last acceptable prejudice’ should be stamped out once and for all,” DeVos said.

But Maggie Garrett, the legislative director at Americans United for the Separation of Church, a nonprofit organization in Washington, has a different take on the state constituional amendments, which she referred to as “no aid” clauses.

“Like with many things, Betsy Devos has her facts wrong,” Garrett said. “It’s a simplistic and inaccurate view of the history. There were many reasons why people support no-aid causes, many of them were legitimate.” And she noted that states continue to support such amendments. Recenty, for instance, Oklahoma tried to strike its clause through a state referendum, but the effort was resoundingly defeated

And she said that DeVos is “overstating” the impact of the Trinity Lutheran decision, which, in Garrett’s view, applied narrowly to playground resurfacing.

Federal Role in School Choice

DeVos also gave a shout-out to states—including , Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania—that have created so-called “tax credit scholarship programs,” in which individuals and corporations can get a tax break for donating to scholarship granting organizations.

DeVos worked behind the scenes last year to get a similar, federal program included in a tax overhaul bill, but was ultimately unsuccessful, sources say. Still, school choice advocates haven’t given up on the idea.

In her speech, though, DeVos acknowledged that a new, federal school choice program might be tough to enact, and even undesirable.

“A top-down solution emanating from Washington would only grow government … a new federal office to oversee your private schools and your scholarship organizations. An office staffed with more unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats tasked to make decisions families should be free to make for themselves. Just imagine for a moment how that might impact you under an administration hostile to your faith! ” she said. “So, when it comes to education, no solution—not even ones we like—should be dictated by Washington, D.C.”

She also conceded that Congress isn’t too keen on the idea. “In addition, leaders on both sides of the aisle in Congress—friend and foe alike—have made it abundantly clear that any bill mandating choice to every state would never reach the president’s desk,” DeVos added.

DeVos is right that the Blaine amendments were created at a time of anti-Catholic bigotry, but they have grown popular over time because most Americans do not want their tax dollars used to support religious schools. Whenever Blaine amendments have been taken to the public in state referenda, they are overwhelmingly defeated. As the nation has grown more diverse in religious practice, Americans have repeatedly rejected efforts to subsidize religious schools.

The best protection of religious liberty, as the Founders understood, is to keep it separate from government. When religious institutions take government money, government regulation will in time follow.

In the nearly two dozen state referenda intended to repeal prohibitions on public funding of religious schools, none has passed. The rejections have been overwhelming. In Michigan, when Dick and Betsy DeVos paid for a repeal effort, the public said no by a margin of 69-31%. Betsy learned nothing from that defeat.

In Florida, Jeb Bush and Michelle Rhee campaigned for a “Religious Liberty amendment” to allow public funding of religious schools, and it went down 55-45%. If they had called it a referendum to permit public funding of religious schools, it probably would have gone down by 70-30%.

The only way that voucher supporters get their way is by concealing what they want, calling vouchers by euphemisms. In Florida, the state circumvented the state constitution and the results of referendum by calling their voucher program “Education Savings Accounts” or “Tuition Tax Credits.” Only by lying can they push vouchers. The public said no, and they did it anyway.

The fact is that the American people do not support vouchers–not for Evangelicals, not for Orthodox Jews, not for Muslims, and not for any other religious group.

The issue in New York State is whether the public should pay for Orthodox Jewish schools where children do not learn English, or science, or mathematics, but take instruction in Yiddish.

The public doesn’t want to pay for it.

Let’s see what happens in November in Arizona, where the Koch brothers and the DeVos family are scrambling to persuade the public to pay for vouchers.

In every state, let the issue go to the public. When they did it in Florida, the public said no, and the Bush-DeVos crowd ignored the public. How much longer must be deal with their subterfuge, obstinacy, arrogance, and lies?