Americans United for Separation of Church and State today lauded the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that concluded states cannot be required to extend scholarship aid to college students training to become members of the clergy.
In a 7-2 ruling, the high court turned away a Washington state college student's claim that his religious liberty rights were harmed when state officials denied a scholarship after learning he had enrolled in a religious college to study pastoral ministries. State officials cited the Washington Constitution, which includes a provision barring public funding of religion.
"This is a huge defeat for those who want to force taxpayers to pay for religious schooling and other ministries," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "This maintains an important barrier to efforts to fund school vouchers and other faith-based programs. Americans clearly have a right to practice their religion, but they can't demand that the government pay for it."
Writing for the majority in Locke v. Davey, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote that, "Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor. Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit."
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 2002 that Washington State engaged in religious discrimination when it offered state aid for secular education but denied it for religious education.
The federal appeals court ruling put at risk constitutional provisions in 37 states that bar government funding of religion. Americans United filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to invalidate the 9th Circuit's decision.
"Religious Right lobbyists have argued over and over again that if government provides funds for secular activities it must do so for religious activities as well," Lynn said. "The high court has squashed that tired argument, pointing to the fact that this nation has a long-held tradition against levying taxes to fund religion."
AU's Lynn said the decision is also a defeat for President George W. Bush's "faith-based" program.
"The Bush administration has urged states to implement 'faith-based' programs, saying that government must fund religious social services just as it does secular social services," Lynn continued. "The 'faith-based' initiative suffered a severe blow with today's high court ruling."
Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.
Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.