Religious schools in Minnesota are arguing in court that their students are facing unconstitutional discrimination from the state because of their faith.
The fight is over an offering by the state that allows students, while still in high school, to earn some college credits.
But Christian colleges are banned from participating, according to claims in the fight.
"Minnesota is waging a senseless campaign against students and the faith-based schools that wish to serve them. Private schools don’t become public schools just because they accept students who receive state funds, and to argue that they do is a transparent attempt to control Minnesotans’ religious beliefs and practices," said Diana Thomson, counsel at Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which is representing the schools.
The schools, along with a number of Christian families, sued the state this year for excluding two Christian colleges from the state's Post Secondary Enrollment Options program.
It offers free college credits to high school students in the program.
But leftists in the state government decided to exclude universities that have their students sign a statement of faith, to comply with the private schools' own requirements.
The state had promised last summer not to enforce the ban while the fight plays out in court, but then the Department of Education there filed counterclaims against the schools, suggesting that since the schools' students receive public funds through grants and loans, "they are state actors," Becket explained.
That would make the statement of faith requirements for the private schools unconstitutional.
The PSEO program is 40 years old and is to allow students to attend any eligible public or private school of their choice.
"Melinda and Mark Loe and Dawn Erickson are parents in Minnesota who have used PSEO funds for their older children to attend two outstanding Christian schools—University of Northwestern – St. Paul and Crown College—that uphold their religious values.
It was Gov. Tim Walz, who advocates for leftist ideologies, who signed a law that targets the two schools, excluding them from the program over the statements of faith their students sign.
Becket explained, "The Department of Education filed counterclaims against Northwestern and Crown in an unrelenting effort to force the schools to abandon their religious admissions criteria. For the first time, the state is claiming that the schools’ acceptance of PSEO students means that they are subject to the same constitutional requirements as the government, and that their Christian campus communities are unconstitutional—an argument that would extend not just to Crown and Northwestern, but to every private school that accepts students who receive government aid. With the help of Becket, the schools asked the court today to dismiss the state’s retaliatory counterclaims."
Colin Hoornbeek, president at Northwestern – St. Paul, said, "Northwestern strives to offer a Christ-centered education to every student who joins our campus community to equip them to serve effectively in their professions and give leadership in the home, community, church, and world. Our university wants to ensure that this essential mission is available to both undergraduates and PSEO students alike. We are praying that the court protects our ability to serve all those who want to take advantage of what our campus community has to offer into the future."
In fact, the Supreme Court previously has ruled that Christian schools are eligible to participate in tax-funded benefit programs that help students on the same basis as public institutions.
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