Richmond, Va. — A Virginia court ruled Friday that TV preacher Pat Robertson's Regent University is "pervasively sectarian" and therefore ineligible for the $55 million in bonds the school had requested.
In a legal challenge filed by Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the group successfully argued that Robertson's graduate school is infused with sectarian bias and thus does not qualify for state aid through bonds or other means.
"I don't know how in the world you can say its [Regent's] primary purpose isn't religious training or that it is not pervasively sectarian," said Circuit Court Judge Randy G. Johnson from the bench. In fact, Johnson felt the matter was so clear, he was able to rule immediately after the three and a half hour hearing had concluded.
"Pat Robertson has been prevented from forcing the taxpayers of Virginia to help support his ministry," said Ayesha Khan, litigation counsel for Americans United, who argued the case at the circuit court. "We felt it was clear that Regent's obvious mission is to advance religion, and we are very pleased the court agreed."
Americans United was able to prove that Regent includes its fundamentalist Christian perspective in all classes and other educational activities based on a series of documents that the group had obtained.
For example, Regent's mission statement says the school exists to "bring glory to God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit." The university, the statement continues, seeks to provide "education from biblical perspectives" and "to be a leading center of Christian thought and action."
The school's admission form also asks student applicants to submit a clergy recommendation and to discuss in detail "how your personal and spiritual objectives relate" to Regent's "Christ-centered educational philosophy."
Perhaps most damaging for Robertson's university was the faculty handbook obtained by Americans United. It demonstrated that Regent's faculty members are required to make a declaration of faith, and must provide the school's dean with a copy of class syllabi, each of which is to include a "statement of how the Christian faith and Bible will be incorporated into the class."
"In light of all of the evidence, I'm surprised Regent would even try to argue that religion does not play a part in every aspect of the university," said AU Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "I know Robertson really wanted the money, but it's a shame he would deny the religious nature of the school he formed just for financial benefit."
Robertson intended to use the bonds to finance construction of new buildings at the school's Virginia Beach campus and a satellite facility in Alexandria, Va., including part of Regent's school of divinity. Regent would have saved $30 million in interest over the lifetime of the bonds.
Americans United's position was also supported by a 1991 unanimous decision from the Virginia Supreme Court that said Jerry Falwell's Liberty University was ineligible for a similar bond issue because of Liberty's "pervasively sectarian" religious character. AU sponsored the litigation blocking Falwell's request of government assistance.
"Robertson formed Regent University to promote his religious agenda," concluded Lynn. "If Robertson wants a college, he can have one. But he has no right to ask the taxpayers to put a donation in his collection plate."
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.