COLUMBIA, South Carolina — A group of private schools is suing South Carolina, saying the racist past of a state constitutional amendment prohibiting spending public money on religious or private schools means it should be overturned.

The Liberty Justice Center filed its lawsuit Wednesday in federal court on behalf of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston and a group called the South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities made up of 20 mostly religious or historically Black colleges and universities.

The lawsuit came after the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Henry McMaster, who wanted to send federal COVID-19 relief money to private schools.

The justices cited an article of South Carolina’s 1895 constitution. Lawyers suing the state said that provision was placed in the constitution because the writers were bigots biased against Catholics.

Other provisions in the same constitution required Blacks to pass a test to vote and other racist measures to prevent African Americans from voting.

The lawsuit asks the federal court to confront the racist reasoning behind the constitutional provision and decide “whether that prejudice is a permissible basis for a continuing policy whereby the state bars private schools and universities from participation in neutral grant programs when the state constitutional provision prohibiting private school participation is based on longstanding and pervasive religious and racial bigotry.”

A decision to provide private schools with public money might also make them have to meet the same standards as public schools.