SCOTUS rules for seperation of church and state for once.
February 25, 2004 8:47 AM   Subscribe

SCOTUS rules for seperation of church and state for once. 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. "Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court majority. "Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit."
posted by skallas (42 comments total)

 
Prof. Volokh disagrees with opinion, and I think he's probably got it right.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 8:51 AM on February 25, 2004


the opinion itself
posted by boltman at 8:52 AM on February 25, 2004


I do not see why the case had to rely on anti-catholic amendments from the 19th century, however. Couldn't the case be settled on first amendment grounds alone?
posted by Hildago at 8:54 AM on February 25, 2004


Sounds like a bad decision to me. Scholarships now only apply to non-religious majors? What about comparitive religious studies?
posted by mathowie at 9:01 AM on February 25, 2004


I'm marginally with Justice Scalia on this, in that it's discrimination rather than separation. But I don't find it particularly troubling.
posted by Foosnark at 9:04 AM on February 25, 2004


Sounds screwy to assert that schools can deny scholarships based on field of study. I don't want to actually confess I agree with Scalia, but...
posted by xmutex at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2004


It's an academic scholarship going to an individual so the scholarship should be based on academic criteria. If this person best fulfills the criteria for the scholarship he should get it. As long as the scoring doesn't give bonus marks for entering seminary school then it isn't a violation of separation of church and state. The church isn't being rewarded, the scholar is.

Rewarding money to religious institutions is a flagrant violation of the first amendment. In this case you are rewarding a religious institution and since funds like these are fungible they can effectively use it for religious purposes by routing dollars from their charitable programs into an evangelical program.
posted by substrate at 9:07 AM on February 25, 2004


I also am stunned to find myself agreeing with Scalla on something as well.
posted by substrate at 9:08 AM on February 25, 2004


Even a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 9:10 AM on February 25, 2004


Looks like we'll be seeing more general liberal arts degrees for ministers from now on. Or uneducated ministers, which would suck.
posted by whatnot at 9:14 AM on February 25, 2004


Twice Scalia uses the phrase "religious calling" in his Dissent, can someone define that for me? What is he saying?
posted by Blake at 9:16 AM on February 25, 2004


This is a good decision. Divinity study is not comparative religious studies. The state should not fund church activities, period.
posted by rushmc at 9:18 AM on February 25, 2004


Davey's major:
Overview:

The Pastoral Ministries major is designed to prepare students for vocational ministry as a pastor in the local church. The core courses should enable the student to develop and express biblical concepts of the church and pastoral ministry and acquire skills needed to engage in effective pastoral ministry.
Sounds like money being handed over to the college to produce a pastor (an agent of their church), not a scholar. Just look at these classes, public tax money in a non-theorcratic state shouldnt be paying for this.

From the state constitution:
"No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment."
Yes, these may be from Blaine amendments, but they reflect the 1st amendment and have not found to be illegal or unconstitutional.

I don't see why people want to take the power away from the states to say "We don't pay for religious studies" especially when there are many avenues for ther religious to get funding for becoming a pastor or a priest as compared to the average student trying to get through college.

rushmc: Divinity study is not comparative religious studies

Exactly. People ignorant of the differences will assume some knee-jerk slippery-slope position unfortuanetly. We've already seen it in this thread.
posted by skallas at 9:23 AM on February 25, 2004


I'll have to go and read the decision, but it still seems shaky to me. You can get funded if you're a comparative religious studies major.

The particulars of this may be wrong WRT the school in question, but in principle:

If you're a CRS major, you'll take some composition, chem, math, a bunch of other requirements, core religion courses, and a bunch of religious electives (which could include various New Testament courses), and a bunch of random electives. Presumably, if you wanted, a chemistry major or a CRS major could take Introduction To Pastorship, or whatever, as an elective.

If you're a theology / pastor-track major, you might well still have to take composition, chem, math, and a bunch of other requirements. You'll likely still have to take the core religion classes, and a bunch of religion electives -- except now Introduction To Pastorship will be a requirement, and Introduction To Hindu will be an elective.

That is, two students could be taking exactly the same set of courses over their four (or more) years. But one will be funded, and one won't, on the basis of their major and their employment plans? That doesn't seem kosher.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:23 AM on February 25, 2004


It's a Pandora's Box situation: The state funds public universities that teach divinity study. And since the state cannot force students to study certain disciplines, it should not withhold funding, either. If you don't want to fund a student's pursuit of divinity, don't publicly fund the major. If, on the other hand, you allow public universities discretion as to what they teach, don't be surprised if a student chooses it.
posted by SeizeTheDay at 9:27 AM on February 25, 2004


Before you agree or disagree, read The Opinion...

So the majority opinioin cites Establishment and Excecise, saying there's "room for play" between them, which they say means, sometimes Establishment permits something, and those things are not required by Excercise, and therein lies this case.
Establishment breaks the link between govt funds & religious training.
This law "disfavors" religion, but imposes no sanctions and doesn't stop someone from participating in the community, or force a student to choose between money, or religion.
So having the state deal with religious callings and other callings differently is cool with them, because, of previous rulings. They said that this is essentially a religious endevor, therefore is supported as an Excercise, but opposed on Establishment. They say the scholoarship goes along way towards including religion in its benefits by letting kids go to religious schools, and see no animus towards religion. It's not unconstitutional because it's not really against religion, but rather it only places a minor burden on those who don't get it.
There's also some interesting history in this ruling.
posted by Blake at 9:30 AM on February 25, 2004


"In an era when the court is so quick to come to the aid of other disfavored groups, its indifference in this case, which involves a form of discrimination to which the Constitution actually speaks, is exceptional."

Gosh, Scalia must have taken his meds today. At least this time he didn't stand at the bench to make a subtle attack on gay rights for no relevant reason.

Since gays want to be equal, we should violate the First Amendment in a completely unrelated issue. This man got through law school?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:31 AM on February 25, 2004


Of course, if we got the government out of the education business entirely, we wouldn't have these petty squabbles.
posted by trharlan at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2004


"That is, two students could be taking exactly the same set of courses over their four (or more) years. But one will be funded, and one won't, on the basis of their major and their employment plans? That doesn't seem kosher."

The separation of church and state can get weird. And you put your finger on something that seems extremely bizarre when taken out of context. But when the context is keeping my tax dollars from funding a certain denomination's spiritual leaders, I'm all for it.

It's weird. Try to get past that and embrace one of the better ideas the founding fathers had.
posted by y6y6y6 at 9:39 AM on February 25, 2004


Seems obvious that the 14th amendment ought to trump the 1st here.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:41 AM on February 25, 2004


This is a great decision. It should be totally within a State's right to deny funding to religous instruction programs. So long as it's not discriminatory.

Want to be a priest? Get the Catholic Church to pay for it.
posted by bshort at 9:47 AM on February 25, 2004


A little background: this in no way bars schools from giving their own money to divinity students. The scholarship in question is a state scholarship that can be applied at any school the recipient wishes to attend (well, any school in WA, IIRC). What's more, there is a specific law on the books in Washington state that forbids the state from funding religious education for aspiring clergy.
posted by willpie at 10:20 AM on February 25, 2004


IshmaelGraves are you refering to the equal protection clause of the 14th? If so, how so?
posted by Blake at 10:32 AM on February 25, 2004


It's a good thing we have separation of church and state.

Because if George Bush was my spiritual leader AND my commander-in-chief, I would have drank the poison Kool-Aid a long time ago.
posted by basilwhite at 10:34 AM on February 25, 2004


Of course, if we got the government out of the education business entirely, we wouldn't have these petty squabbles.

Baby, bathwater.
posted by jpoulos at 10:34 AM on February 25, 2004


I'm one of those godless athiests, and I think this is pretty boneheaded, all around.
posted by majcher at 10:35 AM on February 25, 2004


So, is this something like the school voucher issue, only for colleges?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:32 AM on February 25, 2004


Freedom of religion vs. freedom from religion.
posted by 4easypayments at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2004


Twice Scalia uses the phrase "religious calling" in his Dissent, can someone define that for me? What is he saying?

god's on the phone, and he's pissed, and he wants to talk to skallas about the definition of 'seperating' ...

meanwhile...
i don't get all this church vs. state crap anyhow, i mean, church is clearly for fools, and the state is all about the money, and separating fools from money is the fundamental principle upon which this great nation was built. it's a no-brainer.
posted by quonsar at 12:50 PM on February 25, 2004


This strikes me as total nonsense. Waht if you major in communication but intend to go into clergy of some sort? No funding? What if you study divinity but intend to be only a scholar (like my girlfriend)? No funding? Funding?

To the extent that subsidizing public education is within the puview of the state (and I think it should be), why does the state have to take an issue one way or another on what you do with the education? Could they deny someone scholarship monies because they're likely to keep living at home and not get a job after graduation?

Go Scalia. That's one homophobic theocrat who's got it right!
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:05 PM on February 25, 2004


Baby, bathwater.

Season to taste. Let simmer. Serve open faced with gravy.
posted by jonmc at 1:31 PM on February 25, 2004


One thing I will credit the SCOTUS with is that in the last decade or so, they have taken on some stem-winder degree-of-difficulty cases. Actually, they're a lot of fun to peruse, if you can find a brief, well-written explanation of what the cases are about.

It sort of gives you pause when you see a case and you really don't know what you think the best course of action is--what the best decision should be.

A good national legal news link.

Legal news as reported in the press.

National courts behind the scenes.
posted by kablam at 2:30 PM on February 25, 2004


A divided panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed. 299 F. 3d 748 (2002). The court concluded that the State had singled out religion for unfavorable treatment and thus under our decision in Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. Hialeah, 508 U. S. 520 (1993), the State?'s exclusion of theology majors must be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest. 299 F. 3d, at 757, 758. Finding that the State’s own antiestablishment concerns were not compelling, the court declared Washington’s Promise Scholarship Program unconstitutional. Id., at 760. We granted certiorari, 538 U. S. 1031 (2003), and now reverse.

That damned liberal 9th Circuit.
posted by subgenius at 3:01 PM on February 25, 2004


church is clearly for fools, and the state is all about the money, and separating fools from money is the fundamental principle upon which this great nation was built

It's funny because it's true.
posted by rushmc at 6:26 PM on February 25, 2004


"if you want money from us, you have to major in what we tell you to." That's what the state is saying. When you strip all the legal arguments away, its really just a question of more freedom for students to control their education versus less. Why be for less?
posted by boltman at 10:45 PM on February 25, 2004


One thing to note here--which several people have hinted at, but nobody's come right out and said--is that this decision doesn't forbid states from giving out money for religious study, it allows them to choose not to give out money for religious study. The 14 states without Blaine amendments can still give scholarships for religious study--as can the other 36, if they amend their state constitutions to allow it.

When you strip all the legal arguments away, its really just a question of more freedom for students to control their education versus less. Why be for less?

Because that less freedom for the student is more freedom for the taxpayers to define, via the state constitution and the legislature, how their money is spent. The law prohibits me from robbing you at gunpoint, then using the money to attend college. Should I complain that the law is limiting my educational freedom in this way?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:12 AM on February 26, 2004


The state has no business paying for people to learn make believe.
posted by jon_kill at 7:01 AM on February 26, 2004


"if you want money from us, you have to major in what we tell you to."

I don't necessarily agree with the opinion, but that's no argument.

"If you want farm subsidies, you have to grow the crops we tell you to."

"If you want full social security benefits, you have to retire at the age we tell you to."

"If you want to drive a car, you have to drive the way we tell you to."

Why is that so wrong? How does "Freedom to get government scholarships" outweigh such a basic principle as the separation of church and state?
posted by jpoulos at 7:08 AM on February 26, 2004


By "the opinion" I mean, of course, the court's ruling.
posted by jpoulos at 7:25 AM on February 26, 2004


Some of you seem to support this ruling because it apears to go against people and subject matter of which you disapprove.

I'm looking forward to hearing what they have to say when it used to deny scholarships to med students whose schools have abortion training in their curricala.

And when states deny scholarships in majors in womens studies, black and hispanic studies, Islamic stdies, gay studies, the performing arts ...

And to evolutionary science majors (but not to creation science majors, of course).

This is absolutely going to happen, becasue everybody doesn't like something, and why should the rest of us have to pay for it?
posted by Jos Bleau at 8:04 AM on February 26, 2004


The state has no business paying for people to learn make believe.

I think they fund theatre majors though... The difference to me seems to be that divinity majors have certain areas which they simply cannot honestly question. That's antithetical to education. That's why comparative religion studies is academic, and devotional studies are not. One starts with an open question, and explores; the other starts from a premise and accepts information.

On the other hand, if the state pays in general for training programs that don't involve critical thinking, then why should this one be excluded... I guess the odd thing is why there should be a major at a college that would seem to discourage critical thinking. But if that isn't the criteria, then it could get complicated - if it's just "beliefs" then this could be used to give the gov't a hand in directing people's studies (ie, you can't study marx or gender studies or whatever)

This is a sticky one, actually. I'm as surprised as others to find myself thinking Scalia isn't completely wrong, although I can see the other side as well.
posted by mdn at 8:13 AM on February 26, 2004


Wow, what a ridiculous decision. skallas has it all wrong—SCOTUS has ruled against separation of church and state by allowing the state to discriminate on a religious basis.

Stupid decision by the Supremes.
posted by oaf at 6:18 PM on February 26, 2004


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