Since 1894, the Constitution has prohibited the use of public money for the direct or indirect support of educational institutions that are controlled or directed by any religious denomination, or where religious tenets or doctrines are taught.
The prohibition against using public funds to support religious schools and education first became a part of New York's law in 1844, and was added to the Constitution by the Constitutional Convention of 1894. It has been retained almost completely unchanged since then.
Commonly known as the "Blaine Amendment", named after the Republican Congressman James Blaine (1830-1893) who proposed it as an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, though it was never adopted.
It had not generated much controversy when first introduced in 1894, as it predated the rise of the parochial school system, which was a mass education phenomena of the twentieth century. The only change in this provision was introduced by the constitutional convention of 1938, which amended it by adding a clause allowing the legislature to provide funding for the transportation of students to "any" school or institute of higher learning.
By the time of the 1967 Constitutional Convention, more than 900,000 children were enrolled in non-public elementary and secondary schools, and approximately 90% of those were Catholic institutions. That same year, before the convention, the New York State Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality under the State and U.S Constitutions of a state statute that required local school districts to purchase textbooks and loan them to students in public and nonpublic schools. That decision was later affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
It was against this background that the 1967 constitutional convention was held, with many of the delegates having run on a commitment to the repeal of the Blaine amendment. It was against this background that proposals were offered to repeal the amendment, replace it with the language from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and to carve out exceptions such as allowing the use of public school facilities with public school personnel to provide instruction to students in non-profit schools. At the 1967 convention there was much controversy over these proposals that caused non-partisan splits to form, as well as splits within the religious community and minority groups. Ultimately, all attempts to repeal or amend the Blaine amendment were futile, and it remains unchanged since 1938, and is a bedrock provision that draws a sharp line between the use of public funds for public education and religious education.
Section 1. The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.
[Use of public property or money in aid of denominational schools prohibited; transportation of children authorized]
§3. Neither the state nor any subdivision thereof, shall use its property or credit or any public money, or authorize or permit either to be used, directly or indirectly, in aid or maintenance, other than for examination or inspection, of any school or institution of learning wholly or in part under the control or direction of any religious denomination, or in which any denominational tenet or doctrine is taught, but the legislature may provide for the transportation of children to and from any school or institution of learning.