Taxpayer money for religious studies focus of case
OLYMPIA, Washington (AP) -- Joshua Davey's hard work and good grades won him a state scholarship, but his ambition to be a minister denied him the money. Now, his legal challenge has become another U.S. Supreme Court battle over the separation of church and state.
Davey's case, set for oral argument on Tuesday, pits Washington state's tough ban on using public money for religious purposes against the federal Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.
A ruling in Davey's favor could overturn similar prohibitions in as many as 36 other states.
The court's ruling, which likely won't come for months, will be a follow-up to last year's landmark opinion upholding school voucher programs. (Full story)
Also on tap, an appeal from the Bush administration over the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance recited by school children. (Full story) An appeals court ruled that it amounts to unconstitutional government promotion of religion.
Davey -- who has since abandoned his ambition for the ministry in favor of Harvard Law School -- started the fight as a bid to use as he saw fit a state-funded scholarship he won fair and square.
"From my perspective it was very unfair and kind of arbitrary," said Davey, who sees the policy as disrespectful of the good he might have done society as a minister. "I was being told that that value wasn't important and wasn't worth the state's money."
In 1999, Davey of Spokane, Washington, qualified for a Promise Scholarship, a state-funded program for high-achieving students of modest means. But when Davey, a devout Christian, decided to study for the ministry at Northwest College in Kirkland, Washington, he was told he couldn't use the scholarship.
The Washington Constitution bans the use of public money for religious instruction, and the state argues that policy did Davey no harm.
"The government's decision not to fund the exercise of a fundamental right does not infringe that right," Solicitor General Narda Pierce wrote in the state's brief to the court. "Washington's decision not to subsidize religious instruction to implement its state constitutional policy of separation of church and state does not infringe Davey's right to seek a theology degree."
In 2000, Davey sued in federal court to overturn the policy, arguing that the rule violated his right under the U.S. Constitution to practice his religion freely.
Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the state had no compelling interest in limiting what Davey could study using the scholarship.
Just as I was thinking about what I had written about the state and religion I ran across this on cnn. I had followed the story when it first broke and it's thrilling to see that the appeals court did the right thing. I'm putting my faith in the supreme court that they'll also follow suit and begin breaking down what is in effect a double standard and a complete misread of the constitution. The idea that you can only use a general state scholarship on certain majors and fields of study is offensive and unconscionable. It is one thing if the scholarship was set aside for one particular field (like science or mathematics, etc) but to single out certain areas that are barred is unbelievable. Here's to hoping that the supremes do the right thing and that these laws are struct down. Here's also to hoping that Ginsberg and Breyer choke on their own tongues.