School Choice Proponents Target ‘Know-Nothing’ Anti-Catholic Amendments


School choice supporters are urging the relocation of a portrait of Massachusetts nativist “Know-Nothing” Party Gov. Henry Gardner from its place of prominence in the State House. As their reason, they cite bigotry inherent in two amendments to the state’s Constitution based on his Party’s anti-Catholic sentiment in the mid-nineteenth century.

“The Massachusetts State House portrait of Know-Nothing Governor Henry Gardner represents a dark and bigoted chapter in the history of the Commonwealth and should be moved away from its position of prominence, which is currently right next to the main entrance of the House of Representatives,” Jamie Gass, director of the Center for School Reform at the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, tells Breitbart News.

Gass further explains:

But the real aim here should be to repeal the Know-Nothings’ anti-Catholic amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution. Over one hundred and sixty years later, that mid-19th century legal barrier, which was conceived in bigotry, blocks school choice options for urban families seeking school vouchers and education tax credits to access religious and private schools.

Pioneer sponsored an event held at the State House on Monday, featuring former Ambassador to the Vatican and three-term Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn. The program called for “moving symbols and repealing amendments from a disgraceful and bigoted chapter in Massachusetts history.”

“There is no issue more central to the American Dream than giving poor, working-class and minority kids a chance to get a good education,” said Flynn. “I am horrified not only that we have bigoted nativist amendments in our state constitution that block greater school choice, but that Gov. Henry Gardner’s picture hangs outside the chamber where I once served.”

When the Irish potato famine led to a surge of Catholic immigrants to the United States during the 1840s, the short-lived Know-Nothing Party designed a platform in 1855 centered around anti-Catholic sentiment and progressive policies that catapulted its candidates to the greatest political victory in the state’s history. The Party was ultimately successful in passing a constitutional amendment that barred public money from being used to fund religious schools.

According to Pioneer:

Led by Gov. Gardner and their legislative super majority, the Know-Nothings passed a constitutional amendment that was conceived in prejudice and prohibits public funds from going to parents to send their children to sectarian schools, thereby closing off one of the ways in which Catholic schools carry out their mission of providing needy students with a quality education.

A revised amendment was passed in 1917. The two amount to an insult to the integrity of our system of public education and state law.

School choice advocates support vouchers and education tax credits that would allow parents to select the schools most appropriate for their children. Vouchers themselves are worrisome to those advocating for education freedom since they represent taxpayer funds that move to another school with a child, an arrangement that often means increased regulation introduced into private and parochial schools to receive the voucher funding.

Education tax credit scholarships, however, allow individual and corporate donors to obtain tax credits for monetary donations to the scholarship granting organizations of their choice. Since the donations are from a private, rather than public, source, the concern about increased governmental regulation is not as great.

In a letter to the editor at The Boston Globe, senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute Robert Holland writes, “By initiating this wholly purposeful public campaign, Pioneer has invited residents of the Bay State to reread their history books and think about the ugly bigotry aimed at Catholic immigrants that resulted in legal barriers against public aid helping sectarian schools even indirectly.”

“Having done that, they can then decide for themselves if it is healthy for a vestige of the Know-Nothing era to deny today’s parents a full range of educational choice, including religiously affiliated schools,” he concludes.


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