Jesuit College Isn’t Religious, Can Get Tax Aid, Missouri High Court Rules

The Missouri Supreme Court has ruled that public support of a university with religious ties does not violate the state constitution.

The court turned away a challenge to tax assistance for Saint Louis University’s construction of a new arena for sporting events, graduations and various other student and community programs.

The school, founded by the Jesuits in 1818, was awarded tax-increment financing from the city of St. Louis for the project. A local Masonic Temple Association sued city officials arguing that public support of the school violated the Missouri and federal constitutions.

The Missouri Constitution explicitly bars public funding of religious institutions. But a 6-1 majority of the Missouri Supreme Court found that the “university is not a religious institution simply because it is affiliated with the Jesuits or the Roman Catholic Church.”

The judges concluded in Saint Louis University v. The Mas­onic Temple Association of St. Louis that the university is not under “religious control or directed by a religious denomination.”

University by-laws require the president to be Jesuit and school officials testified that the school’s tradition aspires to Jesuit ideals, but the court majority concluded that it is not a sectarian institution.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that public funding of the religious school is unconstitutional.