This section is from the "The Subvention In The State Finances Of Pennsylvania" book, by Frederic B. Garver.
That part of Article III, Section 18, which prohibits appropriations for charitable or benevolent purposes to any person or community or to denominational or sectarian institutions has never received judicial interpretation, and it is probable that the exact meaning of the section has never been understood by the people of the state.
In 1873, before the present constitution had gone into effect, a pamphlet appeared in which some criticisms were advanced against it. *47 The writer severely criticized Sections 17 and 18 of Article III because they were not sufficiently definite. What did the terms "person" and "community," as used in Section 18, include? Was an in-incorporated charitable institution a person? If so, appropriations for charitable institutions not owned by the state were completely forbidden. *48 Again, what was a sectarian institution? Did the control of an institution by church authorities make it "sectarian" in the meaning of the constitution? The writer of the pamphlet was of the opinion that no appropriation could be made to any private charitable institution after the new constitution went into effect. *49
There is evidence that the Board of Public Charities also believed that the effect of Section 18 would be to prevent further appropriations for the assistance of orphanages established and controlled by religious organizations. The board memorialized the constitutional convention not to include Sections 17 and 18 because the restrictions they contained would prohibit appropriations to this class of private charities.50
The first case in which the provisions of section 18 were invoked to prevent an appropriation was that of Lincoln University. This institution was so clearly under denominational control that the state Superintendent of Public Instruction, acting on the advice of the Attorney General, refused to issue a warrant in its favor. *51
For a few years after 1874 grants to hospitals and to orphanages (exclusive of amounts paid to those that supported soldiers' orphans) ceased entirely. But they began slowly to increase during the decade 1880-90. It is evident, however, that the provisions of Article III, Section 18, were looked upon as restricting such appropriations. In 1885 the Board of Public Charities refused to approve the application of St. Agnes Hospital of Philadelphia, for $20,000 assistance "... to extend its usefulness" because it was, in their opinion, a sectarian institution. The board reported, "This [institution] being under the control of a religious denomination, is not, under the constitution, privileged to receive state aid, hence the approval requested must be denied. *52 In this case the legislature appears to have followed the recommendation of the board and no appropriation was made. Unfortunately the board did not lay down rules for determining when an institution was sectarian or denominational.
47 Price, Eli K. Some Objections to the Proposed Constitution.
48 Idem, p. 6. 49 Idem, p. 7.
50 Report (1873), pp. lix-lrix.
51 Supra, Chapter VII, p. 195.
52 Leg. Docs. (1884-85), Report of the Board of Public Charities on Applications for State Aid, p. 25.
During the latter part of the decade 1880-90 grants to hospitals and orphanages multiplied. How the prohibitions of the constitution were avoided is not entirely explained. It may be supposed that some of these concerns were not under the control of any denomination and that Section 18 did not apply to them. Some, on the other hand, made a pretense of being undenominational by placing upon their boards of trustees persons who were not members of the denomination that actually dominated these boards. *53
In recent years, some of the orphanages and hospitals receiving state aid were clearly denominational and sectarian in the ordinary meaning of those words. Mr. Fleisher has reported instances in which institutions were entirely controlled and managed by the members of a particular sisterhood in whose name all the property was held. *54 In other instances the religious teaching within the subsidized institutions was limited to representatives of the protestant denominations. One concern that received state aid limited its benefactions to Jews.
As has been stated, the constitutionality of the present system of grants to privately managed charitable institutions has not been (i.e. as late as 1916) passed upon by the supreme court of the state. *55 It would be very difficult to put an end to the present system by invoking the provisions of Article III of the constitution against the appropriations. It must be assumed that the majority of the people of the state is favorable to the present arrangements if the action of the legislature and the absence of wide-spread agitation against them are good indications. In order that the decisions of courts should be effective against the present policy of the General Assembly, they would have to be sweeping and inclusive in their scope.
53 Joint Legislative Committee on Charities and Corrections, 1891, Senate Journal (1891), p. 804.
54 Fleisher, A. Pennsylvania's Appropriations to Privately Managed Charities. Pol Sci. Quar. Vol. XXX, pp. 33-34.
55 At various times, the question has been widely discussed among those who advocate making the appropriations in a more systematic manner. On one occasion, an action at law to test the validity of the appropriations was contemplated. However, nothing was done, probably because the legal advice obtained by the men who planned the action was not favorable.