A determined little group met at the Massachusetts State House this week with a simple message to legislators: move the portrait of 19th-century Know-Nothing governor Henry Gardner away from its place of honor outside legislative chambers to someplace more appropriate. The basement, maybe.
Former ambassador and Boston mayor Ray Flynn led a roster of speakers at the Pioneer Institute event promoting educational choice for Massachusetts students, including students from economically disadvantaged families. “Move this Portrait: The Know-Nothing’s Governor and Barriers to School Choice” was about more than moving a Know-Nothing’s portrait. It was about repealing the anti-aid measure, also known as the Blaine Amendment, that was added to the state constitution by anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant legislators in the 19th century.
Flynn reminded his listeners of something that Abraham Lincoln said in 1855, when the Know-Nothing party’s brief ascendancy was leaving its legacy. “When the Know-Nothings get control, the Declaration of Independence will read ‘all men are created equal – except Negroes, foreigners, and Catholics.” Flynn urged a repudiation of the Know-Nothing’s legacy, represented by Governor Gardner’s portrait. He knows this calls for united action by determined Massachusetts residents. “If you can’t effectively articulate a point of view, injustice prevails. Determined people can change just about anything.”
Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute asked a good question, a bit tongue-in-cheek, but thought-provoking. “When did it become unpopular with liberals to give poor people money?” Of course if disadvantaged families are paying taxes, it’s their own money. Their sacrifices to send their kids to non-public schools amount to double taxation.
One step at a time, urged the event’s six speakers. Vouchers, education tax credits, education savings accounts: all are measures that would assist poor families, and each one would be a step in the right direction.
Jason Bedrick, one of the event’s speakers, pointed out that the anti-aid amendment was passed in the days when public schools were effectively non-denominational Protestant. It was designed to prevent public money from going to support of Catholic schools, which at the time were depended upon by many immigrant families. Times have changed, but the anti-aid amendment has not. It’s time to change that, said Bedrick, and he pointed out the “tolerance and respect” he enjoyed as a Jewish man who attended Catholic schools. “School choice fosters cooperation and respects minorities, and fosters students more likely to extend political tolerance to people with whom they disagree.”
Take that, Governor Gardner.
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