Anti-Religious Discrimination or Seperation of Church and State?
September 11, 2003 5:48 PM   Subscribe

The Bush administration has today stepped into the Supreme Court’s next major church-state case, by siding with the ACLJ and asking the high court to allow a state merit scholarship to be applied towards a degree in theology at a Christian College. Is this a valid example of the separation of Church and State, or unreasonable anti-religious discrimination? More inside.
posted by gd779 (18 comments total)
In 1999, Joshua Davey, a student at Northwest College in Kirkland, Washington was awarded a $1,125 Promise Scholarship. The Promise Scholarship provides financial assistance to students primarily from low income families who exhibited high academic credentials and are enrolled in an accredited public or private post-secondary school within the state of Washington.

Davey first received a letter from the Governor stating that he had been granted the scholarship. But when Davey declared his majors (Pastoral Ministries and Business Management), the state withdrew the scholarship, citing a policy that said: "students who are pursuing a degree in theology are not eligible to receive any state-funded financial aid, including the new Washington Promise Scholarship."

A federal district court ruled against Davey in October 2000. The ACLJ appealed to the Ninth Circuit and won. Now the Supreme Court has taken up the case.
posted by gd779 at 5:49 PM on September 11, 2003

I really see no problem with this. Getting a degree in Pastoral Ministries or Theology is as worthless as getting a degree in Philosophy or Woodworking. In reality, 4 out of 5 undergrad college degrees only prepare the student for being a professor in that field. Is the government supporting religion by supporting the pastoral aspect of his schooling, yes and no, schools also have clubs for Jewish students, Muslim students, this is no different.

This is from a Bush-hating atheist, by the way. Egads, I hate agreeing with that moron.
posted by graventy at 5:58 PM on September 11, 2003

Instead of thinking of Bush and religious zealotry, think of the kid. He sounds like he's smart and qualified, and this is what he wants to do. The idea of separation of church and state should be applied with common sense as a guide, and allowing this kid to keep his scholarship, IMHO, seems awfully reasonable.
posted by vito90 at 6:02 PM on September 11, 2003

It's not valid separation. That means that the state ignores whether or not a person or building or whatever is religious or not. If it's a general program, it should apply to anyone for any major, and not single out majors of which the state disapproves.

Letting the prohibition stand is like saying that the state's fire departments will put out fires anywhere... except churches, since that would aid religion.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:04 PM on September 11, 2003

If the school only offers CHRISTIAN ministry then yes it is a violation, if it is a multi-religious school catering to at least a diverse sampling then I would think the money would be fair.
he ACLJ filed suit against the State of Washington when it rescinded Joshua Davey's Promise Scholarship because he chose to major in theology at a Christian College.
Sorry kid, that's estabilishing and suporting one religion over another.

>Getting a degree in Pastoral Ministries or Theology is as worthless as getting a degree in Philosophy or Woodworking.

Oh come on, that's like saying a "blind justice" statue is the same as the ten commandments monument because both are made out of stone.
posted by skallas at 6:15 PM on September 11, 2003

I'm no legal scholar but this seems pretty simple to me. If the kid was awarded the scholarship on the basis of his academic qualifications, his financial status, and his choice of a Washington state school, then why does it matter what the he studies? It would be one thing if the state was handing out scholarships JUST to students who study theology or BECAUSE he is studying theology, but that's incidental to this situation.
posted by marcusb at 6:15 PM on September 11, 2003

Here's the ACLU's amicus brief, arguing that the scholarship should be revoked.
posted by gd779 at 6:23 PM on September 11, 2003

I hate the little baby Jesus as much as the next guy, and I was a card-carrying member of the ACLU until they put me on every pinko nut-job mailing list in the world, but I've gotta go with the kid on this one.

Any college, even a knuckle-rapping Christian school with no dancing allowed on campus, is better than no college, in my opinion. I think a grand or so of the taxpayer's money is worth helping someone get their education, even if they are the hated Enemy. Hell, maybe after he studies for a while, he'll decide that it's all bunk, ditch the god-school, and become, oh, say, a stage magician or something.
posted by majcher at 6:36 PM on September 11, 2003

I'm surprised to be on the side of the Bush administration, even if for different reasons. Unless I'm misunderstanding this, and I could be, the student was already at the Christian college when the scholarship was awarded. If Washington state has a problem with the theology program at a Christian college, they should come up with a valid rationale (which I believe there is) for denying any publicly-funded scholarships to that school and stick to that.

In fact, I had no idea that what the ACLU (and BTW, I'm still a card-carrying member) calls "clergy training" was happening at accredited undergraduate academic institutions rather than seminaries and the like. But it seems the line would rightly be drawn at the institutional level, not on this shaky, wiggly ground of which classes the student happens to attend.
posted by soyjoy at 6:38 PM on September 11, 2003

US Supreme Court cases interpreting the First Amendment of the US Constitution clearly allow for Davey to use the scholarship at the college of his choice. At issue in this case is a provision of the State of Washington's Constitution and some more specific state statutes.

I haven't read briefs, etc. but this case is ripe for reversal by the Supremes.
posted by ajr at 6:47 PM on September 11, 2003

ajr: You sound like a lawyer or law student. Are you?
posted by gd779 at 6:53 PM on September 11, 2003

All I care about is that the scholarship was awarded, by the state, without looking at the guys religion. If they can prove that this wasn't true then the ACLU has a case. I personally don't have a problem if the kid takes his award and goes to university for divinity, engineering or advanced satanism.

If the scholarship was awarded on the basis of him being a good Christian then I would see a violation of church and state. Nothing indicates this however. I'm proudly an atheist, but the separation of church and state isn't supposed to be a bludgeon against Christianity or any other religion.
posted by substrate at 6:57 PM on September 11, 2003

Sorry kid, that's estabilishing and suporting one religion over another.

No, it's not, because someone could just as easily decided to major in Talmudic Studies at Washington state Yeshiva college. (note: the ACLU makes the argument that the requirement that the scholarship be applied to a college withing the state of Washington de-facto favors those who wish to study Christian theology. Heck, it probably de-facto favors those who wish to study forestry over petroleum-engineering, too, but unless the law was specifically intended to favor Christian colleges, it's hard to say that this is unconstitutional)

Honestly, I'm sort of shocked that this was ever a policy in the first place. I mean, in a lot of schools, theology is just one of a litany of different majors. Furthermore, if the since the scholarship requires enrollment in an accredited institution, he will be getting a B.A. degree whose requirements involve classes far beyond a few theology courses. The student is receiving a bachelor's degree from a college, not having the state pick up the tab on his religious-certification classes or for an M.Div.

I'm trying hard to look at this from the ACLU's perspective, but it's really not coming together for me. A guy gets a scholarship. He goes to an accredited college, and gets a B.A. degree. At that point, the state's interest ends.
posted by deanc at 6:58 PM on September 11, 2003

Unfortunately, based on Washington's state constitution, I do think the ACLU et al are on the legally correct ground, as the document reads:

"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."

And the Washington State Code reads:

"To ensure that no public money is appropriated or applied for "religious worship, exercise or instruction," state law mandates that "[n]o aid shall be awarded to any student who is pursuing a degree in theology."

It sounds to me like the folks handing out the scholarships didn't ask the right questions (ie, what are you majoring in?) and it doesn't seem moral or fair to revoke it now because of their failure to adquately examine the applicants.
posted by headspace at 7:13 PM on September 11, 2003

Nope. Nope. Nope. The state has no obligation to subsidize the education of a minister of any religion. I suppose there were reasons the Blaine laws were even written and passed at all. Oh yes, here it is:

The history of Washington’s ban on state spending for religious classes stems from opposition in the 19th century to the Catholic Church, Olson said, which “provides all the more reason to reject any reliance on the provision here as a means of justifying the discriminatory treatment.” More than 30 states have these Blaine amendments.

How many more times does the age old adage need repeated?

"He who ignores history is doomed to repeat it."

If there's anything the Pat Robertson brainchild (what I thought was laughably named then, when they first began) ACLJ wants, it is to repeat it .

But I do agree with headspace. No sense in rejecting it now. Just do a better job next time. But with the shrill, reactionary and narrowminded justice happy ACLJ on the case, there probably won't be a next time.

It's all a slippery slope, that repeating history thing.
posted by crasspastor at 8:25 PM on September 11, 2003

The state has no obligation to subsidize the education of a minister of any religion

No, but to carve out a denial-of-benefits on the basis of religious conduct as religous conduct -- you can do anything you want, as long as it isn't God-bothering -- seems fishy to me. I'd rather that Washington fund anyone majoring in anything. Or if they want to have the effect of denying funding to theology majors, limit these scholarships to public schools, or limit funding to majors directly related to public primary and secondary school curricula, etc.

And the law is goofy otherwise. If I take a set of classes at accredited Fundamentalist Dogma College and end up with a degree in Religious Studies or Comparative Religion, that's fine and fundable. But if I take the exact same sequence of courses and end up with a degree in Pastoral Studies, that's unfundable. What if I take all of the required courses while pursuing a fundable major of Religous Studies and, two weeks before graduation, switch my major to the unfundable Theology -- do I owe the state back the funds, for study that was fundable when I did it? Putting the state in charge of deciding what is unfundable theology and what is fundable religious studies, which would be the next step, is a big no-no to me.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:13 PM on September 11, 2003

You've pretty much stated the slippery slope right there ROU.

Once we allow a dispassionate religious studies office at a public university become conflated with religious proselyzation in the public eye via a relgious extremist group's access to the courts and media without any advertised "fair and balanced" public forum. . .

Well, fill in the blank.

This sets a dangerous precedent.

All religions are free to be practiced in this country. Nobody's stopping anybody. If the ACLJ were genuine they'd instead create a scholarship program to support what is important to them. As it is, out of one side of their mouths they voice the concern that maybe Christians are being discriminated against by the state. But out of the other they're seeking to weaken the fairness, seperation of church/state laws by challenging it with exactly what makes them free to practice their religion. They want it both ways. They seek to passive aggressively defend their religion(=USA) insofar as the public sees, but to more importantly belligerantly persue their goals of weakening the Constitution so that really, only one religion one political party is ever allowed in this country. And they are qualitatively rabid about it.
posted by crasspastor at 10:08 PM on September 11, 2003

>They seek to passive aggressively defend their religion(=USA) insofar as the public sees, but to more importantly belligerantly persue their goals of weakening the Constitution so that really, only one religion one political party is ever allowed in this country.

Hear hear!

I don't see how they can reconcile the "fund us now" and the "we're being discriminated against because you wont give us special funding" views. Imagine if this was a muslim kid, the ACLJ would probably be praising the decision as proper seperation of church and state.

"Don't kid yourself for one minute - these people are demanding that America become a theocracy, that we all worship their God, and that their beliefs become the law of the land."

Great link.
posted by skallas at 11:23 PM on September 11, 2003

« Older Mid-Autumn Festival   |   Frank and sobering interview with Paul Krugman. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments