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CCCU Joins Inter-Faith Higher Education Brief in US Supreme Court Case Affirming Equal Access to Government Funding for Religious Organizations

April 25, 2016
Photo courtesy of Daderot, Wikimedia Commons
Photo courtesy of Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON – On April 21, the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities joined the Association of Catholic Colleges & Universities, Brigham Young University and seven of its members in filing an amicus brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a church challenging a lower court ruling that limited its access to government funding.

The Trinity Lutheran Church Learning Center in Columbia, Missouri, applied for a grant from the state of Missouri’s scrap tire program in order to upgrade its gravel and grass playground with material made from scrap tires. They were deemed the fifth most qualified applicant out of 44, but, referencing the Missouri Blaine Amendment, the state denied the grant solely because the Learning Center is religiously affiliated.

The church appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the denial. For decades, state Blaine Amendments have been used to discriminate against religious organizations by denying them access to generally available government funding solely because they are religious.  

The brief argued, “[I]f the church in this case can be discriminated against based on its religious character, so also can a religious college or university be discriminated against in the allocation of government-related benefits that are critical to its success – such as student loans and grants, tax exemptions, accreditations and research contracts. The resulting weakening of religious higher education would be an enormous loss.” 

“This case is crucially important,” said CCCU President Shirley V. Hoogstra, “as it will answer the question of whether the government can discriminate based on religion, or whether they must be neutral arbiters of the law. CCCU campuses, as well as all religious institutions, should be allowed to compete for government funding on equal grounds, and decisions about who receives the funding should be made solely on the merits of which recipient will best use this money to benefit the public. It is the Supreme Court's duty to protect the rights of religious institutions ability to serve their communities in accordance with their faith.”

CCCU institutions serve the communities in which they are located through organized acts of service by students and employees, as well as developing lifelong commitments to servant-leadership in their graduates. The brief highlighted the unique benefits of religious colleges and universities, including safe learning environments and substantial contributions to the diversity of American higher education.

At the heart of this case is how the lower court interpreted the Supreme Court’s decision in Locke v. Davey (2004). In that instance, the Supreme Court held that a state government could exclude a ministerial training program from a generally available scholarship program. Here, the lower court interpreted Locke to mean that any government funding can be restricted, regardless of its purpose, if the recipient is religiously affiliated. This case challenges that very narrow finding as an incorrect interpretation of Locke.

The CCCU joins member institutions Asuza Pacific University, Biola University, Oklahoma Christian University, Oral Roberts University, Regent University, Wheaton College and William Jessup University on the brief.

Read the April 21, 2016 amicus brief here.

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The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 180 Christian institutions around the world. The 117 member campuses in North America are all regionally accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences and whose missions are Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith. In addition, 63 affiliate campuses from 20 countries are part of the CCCU. The CCCU’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help our institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.

The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities offers 10 off-campus study programs, collectively branded BestSemester®, which expand learning opportunities for students from CCCU campuses and are designated as culture-shaping or culture-crossing programs. Culture-shaping BestSemester programs are: American Studies Program (Washington, D.C.), Contemporary Music Center (Nashville) and Los Angeles Film Studies Center (Los Angeles). Culture-crossing BestSemester programs are: Australia Studies Centre, China Studies Program, Latin American Studies Program, Middle East Studies Program, Oxford Summer Programme, Scholars’ Semester in Oxford and Uganda Studies Program. Visit www.bestsemester.com for program details.