ACLU Urges Supreme Court to Reject Taxpayer Funding for Clergy Training

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
December 2, 2003 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today in Locke v. Davey, which raises the question of whether the federal constitution compels a state to provide scholarship funds for clergy training, in violation of its own constitution.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, said a ruling requiring such financial support would not be consistent with existing law and would improperly entangle government with religion.

“Public funding for ministerial training raises special and long-held concerns about government involvement with religion,” said ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro. “In addition, in a religiously diverse society taxpayer money should not be used in a manner that benefits only some religions.”

In today’s case, Joshua Davey is appealing the denial of a Washington State “Promise Scholarship” that he had planned to use to train for an evangelical ministry. The “Promise Scholarship” is a grant awarded by the state to high school seniors who graduate in the top 15 percent of their class and whose parents’ income falls below a certain level. It is offered for the first two years at any college in Washington.

The case arose in 1999, when Davey sought to use the scholarship towards his studies in the pastoral ministry at Northwest College, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God church. Students are permitted to use the “Promise Scholarship” to study religion as an academic subject, such as comparative religion or the history of religion.

“States should be able to continue their longstanding tradition of providing extra protection for religious freedom under their state constitutions,” said Aaron H. Caplan, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Washington and principal author of the ACLU brief. “It would be a dramatic departure from constitutional law for the Supreme Court to rule that taxpayers are required to pay for clergy training.”

Currently 36 states have laws providing such protection for religious freedom; a number of them have filed briefs in support of the Washington law.

The brief was filed by the ACLU along with Americans United for Separation of Church and State, People for the American Way Foundation and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

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