Supreme Court to Decide on Religious Discrimination Case

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:21pm EDT

( - The U.S. Supreme Court is presiding over a case in which a college student who applied for a state scholarship was denied the funds after he chose to major in theology.

Joshua Davey attended Northwest College in Kirkland, Wash., and was awarded the state's Promise Scholarship for academic excellence and financial need. The state withdrew the money it awarded Davey for the 1999-2001 school years because Davey declared a double major in pastoral ministries and business management.

In July 2002, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned a district court ruling and declared the state's policy unconstitutional. The appeals court concluded that the state "impermissibly deprived Davey of his scholarship.

"This policy is clearly discriminatory - pure and simple," said Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the ACLJ, which presented oral arguments challenging the state's policy before the U.S. Supreme Court.

"There is no doubt that by carving out a religious exclusion in scholarship funding and prohibiting state scholarship funds from being used to finance the education of a student who chooses to major in theology is not only wrong but unconstitutional as well," said Sekulow.

"We are hopeful the high court will put an end to what can only be described as blatant anti-religious discrimination. At the same time, this case will have national ramifications with the high court in a position to ensure that those who pursue religious studies are not singled out and treated in a discriminatory fashion as they pursue their education," Sekulow added.

"The implications of this case are breathtaking," Justice Stephen Breyer told Solicitor General Theodore Olson, who argued the case for the Bush administration.

Olson pointed out that Davey was the only student excluded from the state program because he chose to study religion, but the program was available to anyone else. He called the case "the plainest form of religious discrimination."

But Americans United for the Separation of Church and State disagrees.

"States should never be required to support religious education," said Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn. "The Founding Fathers wanted religion to be supported voluntarily, not through taxpayer funding."

Lynn said if the Supreme Court upholds the appeals court's decision, it could effectively require states to subsidize religion in some cases.

"State support always comes with strings," Lynn said. "It also has the corrosive effect of devitalizing religion. Faith has done so well in America precisely because we separate church and state and insist that religious groups rely on voluntary funding, not government handouts. "

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