As activists topple Confederate statues in the South, bigotry lives on in Colorado. One big problem is codified in the state constitution.
We applaud a respected local business, Cheyenne Mountain Resort, for canceling its contract to host a group tied to vile hate-mongers who fomented terror in the streets of Charlottesville, Va. We don’t want their kind here.
Outrage over Charlottesville has social media abuzz with talk of our union’s flawed past. The cultural majority wants a vigilant rejection of hatred based in race, religion and/or sexual orientation.
Our friend, Boulder County District Attorney Stan Garnett, posted on Facebook a quick overview of Colorado’s history with the pro-Confederacy Ku Klux Klan, a murderous association of anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant racists.
“The KKK was very powerful in Denver and Colorado politics in the 1920’s and 30’s. Judges, elected officials, a Governor and Mayor of Denver were members. The Aryan Nation assassinated Denver radio talk Show Host Alan Berg in 1984. And the KKK was very influential in Boulder County as well . ”
Boulder hosted a Klan rally in 1994, issuing a permit for Klansmen to cordon off a chunk of the Pearl Street Mall for an assembly of hate.
We can argue the merits of dismantling symbols, but one fact remains. Statues, unlike statutes, do not regulate human events. State, local and federal laws determine the extent of our civil rights. National Knights of the Ku Klux Klan Director Thomas Robb made this clear during his ’94 Boulder Klan rally. He applauded the city’s exclusionary planning rules, intended to curtail growth and protect the environment, insisting they would maintain a predominantly white population.
Confederate statues and hate rallies are grotesque but are not Jim Crow laws, school segregation or even the unintended consequences of well-intentioned urban planning practices.
Unlike any statue, Colorado’s worst pro-discrimination law directly harms poor, minority and immigrant children. That was the intent when the Klan urged Klansmen in public office to support it.
Our problem is Article XI, Section 7 of the Colorado Constitution. Most call it the “Blaine Amendment.” The law is a statutory limit on the educational options of low-income families and children stuck in underperforming schools. It says no government funds can help any school associated with “any church or sectarian denomination whatsoever.”
The Klan promoted Blaine laws because religious schools educated most 19th century minority immigrants, who were often rejected by public schools. By harming sectarian schools, the Klan could hold immigrants down.
The laws remain in Colorado and 37 other states, limiting some of the highest performing private schools to children of economic privilege.
The Supreme Court of the United States enhanced school choice with its ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka 63 years ago.
The Supreme Court tried to further enhance school choice, 48 years after Brown, with its 2002 ruling in Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. The decision reduced school discrimination in Cleveland, which offered publicly funded vouchers to expand educational options.
Religious organizations run most private schools in Cleveland’s urban core, but the vouches excluded them. That mired urban students in old neighborhood attendance centers, giving them little more choice than Linda Brown had when Topeka restricted her options because she was black. For most Cleveland kids, the vouchers were useless until the Supreme Court ordered the discrimination to stop.
The Douglas County School District more recently tried to help low-income kids with scholarships that could pay sectarian tuition.
Despite the Zelman ruling, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled against the program in 2015 and in favor of the Klan’s Blaine Amendment.
Big hope remains for Blaine laws to go the way of nonfashionable bronze men. The Supreme Court of the United States in June struck down Missouri’s discrimination against a Lutheran school, which could not get state playground funds because of its church affiliation. After that ruling, the court told the Colorado Supreme Court to reconsider its decision in the Douglas County case.
“With the Trinity Lutheran case, I’m pretty optimistic that the voucher programs will be held constitutional,” said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice, in a conversation with The Gazette. “I think the Blaine Amendments are pretty much done.”
Let us hope so. As we scour the landscape for symbols of injustice and disassociate from haters, we should not forget laws that impose real harm with absolute authority. Let’s get rid of codified bigotry, starting with Colorado’s Klan-inspired Article XI, Section 7, otherwise known as Blaine.