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We are constantly advised by education officials that diversity is the key to 21st century schooling. But when it comes to religious Americans, diversity suddenly becomes a nebulous term. A recent court case illustrates how religious Americans are often forced to play on an uneven playing field solely because they desire to follow the calling of their faith.
Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that college scholarship programs can be denied to students majoring in theological studies. This ruling could have a dramatic effect on a wide range of religious-freedom issues.
The court, in a 7-2 decision, said that the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion does not mean students in ministry-related college studies are entitled to state scholarship funds. The case surrounded Washington state student Joshua Davey who saw his state Promise Scholarship revoked after administrators learned he was a pastoral ministries major.
This is certainly not the environment our Founders intended for people of faith. Our history is alive with examples where funds were utilized to promote Christianity.
Consider that the U.S. Congress actually provided funding for three Bible societies during James Madison’s presidency. Do you think the Founders would have been concerned if a few dollars had gone to college students enrolled in religious studies?
But modern-day civil libertarians have, in many ways, gained the momentum in the effort to purge religion from the public square. Students like Josh Davey are paying the price.
Had these stringent secularists been running things during our nation’s founding, I doubt that Jacob Duche would have been afforded the opportunity to offer the first prayer in Congress on Sept. 7, 1774, in Philadelphia’s Carpenters Hall. Nor would we have ever had any national days of public prayer or had “In God We Trust” as a national motto.
Our Founders clearly intended people of faith to be included in all areas of society and government – not to be treated as pariahs.
Revolutionary leader Thomas Paine, in 1797, criticized the secularism of education, saying, “Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles. He can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.”
However, in last week’s majority opinion for the high court, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist said that states should have the ability to restrict scholarships to those majoring in theological studies – yes, students looking through the discovery to the Author.
“Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor,” the chief justice wrote. “That a state would deal differently with religious education for the ministry than with education for other callings” is not evidence of “hostility toward religion.”
He noted the scholarship program “goes a long way toward including religion in its benefits,” because it allows students to use scholarship money to attend accredited religious schools.
Yes, but only insofar as those students are not majoring in theological studies.
I respect Chief Justice Rehnquist, but I believe he took a strangely myopic view of those studying for the ministry. In fact, the student who brought suit against the state of Washington in this case actually had a double major that included pastoral ministries and business management. But the ministry, like any other profession, is a varied pursuit that has many secular applications.
Writing the dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia, along with Justice Clarence Thomas, charged that the scholarship program “discriminates against religion.”
Indeed, I believe the court has sanctioned the disconnection between religious people and everyone else. Jay Sekulow, chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice agreed that the ruling “clearly sanctions religious discrimination.”
Mr. Sekulow, who presented oral arguments before the high court in the case, said, “It is troubling that the decision is irreconcilable with more than a half century of Supreme Court precedent regarding the free exercise of religion. In this case, Josh Davey simply wanted to be treated equally on the same terms and conditions as other scholarship recipients. The decision does not prohibit states from structuring scholarship programs to permit the pursuit of a degree in devotional theology. The Supreme Court, however, missed an important opportunity to protect the constitutional rights of all students.”
The Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State – a man who is so secular-minded that he believes our currency should not bear the slogan “In God We Trust” – said, “This is a huge defeat for those who want to force taxpayers to pay for religious schooling and other ministries. This maintains an important barrier to efforts to fund school vouchers and other faith-based programs. Americans clearly have a right to practice their religion, but they can’t demand that the government pay for it.”
There you have it – this case will be utilized to accelerate the effort to further purge the semblances of religion from the public square.
Dave Silverman, communications director for American Atheists, went even further, saying the government should never assist the pursuits of people of faith.
“If you can’t use public money to train religious leaders,” he reasoned, “you cannot be raiding the public treasury to fund social programs that incorporate religious teaching, or provide subsidies for students to attend religious schools.”
You can see that these guys won’t rest until America adopts an exclusively secular society where people of faith are fully disdained, rejected and penalized.
It behooves Christians in this nation to heed the words of our nation’s first U.S. Chief Justice John Jay, who said, “Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”