A proposed Satanic school helped derail a vote to repeal Idaho's Blaine Amendment
If the bill succeeds, taxpayer dollars could be funneled to religious schools... including Satanic ones.
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An attempt by Idaho Republicans to repeal the state’s Blaine Amendment—a move that would allow taxpayer money to flow to churches and faith-based ministries across the state—has thankfully been placed on hold.
But not before a Satanist told lawmakers how they planned to take advantage of the potential new law to create a pro-Satan school.
I wrote a few weeks ago about how the Idaho Constitution explicitly forbids taxpayer dollars from funding religion thanks to something called a “Blaine Amendment.” This is a reference to a failed amendment to the U.S. Constitution, first proposed in 1875, that would have banned federal money from going to religious schools. Even though it didn’t pass, 37 states have adopted their own versions of the law.
Idaho is one of them. Article IX, Section 5 of the state’s Constitution says state and local governments cannot use any public money “for any sectarian or religious purpose.”
That’s why GOP lawmakers recently introduced House Joint Resolution 1, which would repeal that section of the constitution. If those Republicans got the votes they needed from their colleagues—two-thirds support in both chambers—the issue would soon be put in front of voters.
On Tuesday, this bill was discussed in front of the House State Affairs Committee. One of the speakers during the public comments portion of the hearing was Rowan Astra, a non-theistic Satanist. Perhaps surprisingly, Astra supported the repeal of the Blaine Amendment… but only because they had big plans for the federal money that could come their way.
… I represent Satanic Idaho. I’m here to support this. Personally, I’m excited about the ability to truly represent religious plurality, which is a value that’s upheld in Idaho and the United States of America. So I look forward to the opportunity to be able to start a Satanic K-12 performing arts school, and being able to have access to the same funds that any other religious school would have.
Either that’s brilliant trolling or an incredible plan for the future.
(Another Satanist chimed in on X/Twitter: “We Satanists are very [excited] to bring a range of ideas and philosophies to Idaho's youth. Critical race theory, gender sciences, and a fully stocked banned book library.”)
The lawmakers didn’t address the comments in the moment, but a few minutes later, they heard testimony from Katherine Hartley, a lawyer for the right-wing Pacific Justice Institute. Hartley also supported the Blaine repeal—no surprise there—but she was soon questioned by GOP Rep. Vito Barbieri, who seemed concerned about the possibility of non-Christian religions using taxpayer funds.
BARBIERI: Katherine, I'm curious what your legal perspective would be, that if this provision was passed by the electorate, would that result in equal distribution of public funds to Satanists and other… what we might call fringe religious beliefs or organizations?
HARTLEY: Chairman and Representative Barbieri, it would. It would allow any religious group to utilize any benefit that's offered by the state. And obviously, today, we are not specifically talking about any specific benefit or bill or potential bill, but generally speaking, yes, it would be open to all faiths.
Obviously, with the, I would say, safeguards that are within the law. Meaning a person has a right to the free exercise of religion and the government can only step in if it has a compelling interest that's narrowly tailored—that's called “strict scrutiny.” So if someone's free exercise of religion is something so concerning that the state has a compelling interest in prohibiting it, the state has the ability to do that.
Hartley was essentially admitting that Satanists (and Muslims and other non-Christian groups) would theoretically have access to the funds. However, if the state had a really good reason not to give it to them, there was a way to restrict the funds from going to those groups. You don’t have to be a lawyer to realize that a group being considered a “fringe” religion would never pass strict scrutiny.
By the end of the committee meeting, there were enough questions about the implementation of this potential law that it didn’t go anywhere:
Rep. Joe Palmer, R-Meridian, who made the motion to hold the legislation, said he supported it but had “technical questions” that he couldn’t’ get answers to at the moment. He didn’t elaborate on his questions and wasn’t available for questions following the meeting.
Did he hold the legislation because of the Satanism concerns? Who knows. But it clearly clogged up what could have been an otherwise straightforward vote. When I asked Rowan Astra last night if they thought the testimony helped steer the bill off course, they said, “I believe in a small way, yes.” (I happen to agree.)
The Blaine repeal isn’t dead. Still, the temporary delay is a step in the right direction. The Idaho Constitution, on this matter, has it exactly right. There’s no reason for lawmakers and voters to undo it.