Wednesday, February 25, 2004

SCOTUS backs state's right to withhold funds for divinity schooling

but here's a foretaste of things to come: Note who the 2 dissenters are -- they will be joined by 3 like-minded induhviduals during W's next administration. (Thanks again, Dimmocrats & Nadirites, for the repeat demo of the Law of Unintended Consequences...)

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 — The Supreme Court ruled today, in a case watched by public officials and educators across the country, that the states can withhold public scholarship money from students pursuing religious studies.

The justices decided, 7 to 2, that Washington State had the right to deny scholarship aid to a college student who was studying to be a minister.

The majority rejected arguments that the exclusion of divinity students from the state's Promise Scholarship Program was an unconstitutional burden on the free exercise of religion.

The program "imposes neither criminal nor civil sanctions on any type of religious service or rite," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the majority. "It does not deny to ministers the right to participate in the political affairs of the community. And it does not require students to choose between their religious beliefs and receiving a government benefit."

Rather, the chief justice wrote, "The state has merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction."

Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the dissenters, found that reasoning unpersuasive. "The indignity of being singled out for special burdens on the basis of one's religious calling is so profound that the concrete harm produced can never be dismissed as insubstantial," Justice Scalia wrote.

"Let there be no doubt," Justice Scalia wrote at another point. "This case is about discrimination against a religious minority."

The Washington State program awards scholarships on the basis of academic merit and financial need to students who attended accredited colleges in the state, including those with religious affiliations. But it excludes students pursuing degrees in devotional theology.

The case was Locke v. Davey, No. 02-1315, after Gov. Gary Locke and Joshua Davey, who studied religion at Northwest College, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God. He did not become a minister, deciding instead to attend Harvard Law School.

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