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Education Law

Navigation:  Home > Education Law > Religion and State Funding for College

 

In February 2004, the United States Supreme Court ruled that states withhold scholarships from students studying theology. The court's 7-2 ruling held that the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister. That holding applies even when money is available to students studying anything else.

Washington's exclusion of the pursuit of a devotional theology degree from its otherwise-inclusive scholarship aid program does not violate the Free Exercise Clause. This case involves the "play in the joints" between the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses. That is, it concerns state action that is permitted by the former but not required by the latter.

In this case, Joshua Davey was awarded a Promise Scholarship, and chose to attend Northwest College. Northwest is a private, Christian college affiliated with the Assemblies of God denomination, and is an eligible institution under the Promise Scholarship Program. Davey had planned for many years to attend a Bible college and to prepare  himself through  that college training for a lifetime of ministry, specifically as a church pastor. To that end, when he enrolled in Northwest College, he decided to pursue a double major in pastoral ministries and business management/administration. At the beginning of the 1999-2000 academic year, Davey met with Northwest's director of financial aid. He learned for the first time at this meeting that he could not use his scholarship to pursue a devotional theology degree. He was informed that to receive the funds appropriated for his use, he must certify in writing that he was not pursuing such a degree at Northwest.

His lawsuit led to the Supreme Court's decision. ''It does not deny to ministers the right to participate in the political affairs of the community. And it does not require students to choose between their religious beliefs and receiving a government benefit. The state has merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction," stated the Supreme Court high opinion.

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