ACLU and Virginia Taxpayers Oppose State Funding For Christian University Founded by Pat Robertson

July 19, 1999 12:00 am

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RICHMOND, VA — The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today took legal action against the state approval of $55 million in bonds for construction projects at Regent University, a Christian graduate school founded by Pat Robertson.

The legal action, filed by the ACLU in Richmond Circuit Court on behalf of three Virginia taxpayers, claims that state assistance to the religious school would violate the constitutional mandate for separation of church and state.

“From its articles of incorporation to its student selection process, Regent University’s official documents make it absolutely clear that its primary and overriding purpose is religious,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis. “Pat Robertson has a constitutional right to operate a religious university and the ACLU would be the first organization in line to defend his right to do so. What Mr. Robertson may not do, however, is receive support from the state for his sectarian mission.”

The court action stems from a hearing on June 22, when the Virginia College Building Authority chose not to issue final approval of Regent’s request because of uncertainty concerning the religious status of the university.

The Building Authority instead asked the Richmond Circuit Court to decide whether the request conformed with statutory and constitutional guidelines. If the court decides that Regent is a pervasively religious institution, the university would be barred by the Virginia and U.S. Constitution from receiving the bond approval.

According to its articles of incorporation, Regent University “shall exist for the purpose of bringing glory to God and His Son Jesus Christ by providing an institution or institutions of learning in which those who are mature in the knowledge of God and His ways can assist and guide, in a spirit of free inquiry and scholarly excellence, those would learn of Him, His ways, and His creation, while together they study ways to glorify God and better their world.”

The application for admission, among other similar questions, includes the following: “Given Regent’s commitment to a Christ-centered educational philosophy, explain how your personal and spiritual objectives relate to that commitment.”

“There is surely some hypocrisy here,” Willis said. “On the one hand, Mr. Robertson promotes Regent University as place dedicated to providing an education completely immersed in the Christian faith. On the other, he argues that the state of Virginia should support the university because it is not pervasively religious. He can’t have it both ways.”

Regent University recently asked the Virginia College Building Authority to approve a $55 million bond request for construction projects. The approval of the bond would make the university eligible for a low interest rate that would save the school millions of dollars over the life of the loan.

In 1991, Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell, was denied $60 million in low interests bonds by the Virginia Supreme Court on the basis that the school was “pervasively religious.” Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Maryland’s denial of tax dollars to Columbia Union College because it, too, was pervasively sectarian in nature.

A hearing is scheduled for July 30 in Richmond Circuit Court. Richard Ferris, Esq., Associate Director of the ACLU of Virginia, and Rebecca Glenberg, Esq., Legal Director of the ACLU of Virginia, represent Virginia taxpayers Frank Feibelman, Mary Bauer, and Bernard Levin in the action.

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