ANN ARBOR, MI – The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a significant case involving distribution of state scholarship to students who major in theology or any kind of religious education.
The case was initiated by a dispute between Joshua Davey, the recipient of a state scholarship, and the state of Washington who rejected scholarship after Davey chose Pastoral Ministry as a double major along with Business Management/Administration.
The Thomas More Law Center filed a brief in support of Davey because it is involved in a similar case pending against Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm on behalf of Ave Maria College student Teresa M. Becker.
Like Dayey, Becker was also stripped of the scholarship that she had been receiving from Michigan’s Competitive Scholarship Program for the past two years after she declared a major in Theology.
A issue in the Michigan case is a state ruling that explicitly prohibits distribution of scholarship funds to students who major in “theology, divinity or religious education”. A federal district judge ruled in July that Michigan’s law constitutes “unlawful viewpoint discrimination” and that Becker will likely win her case pending the decision of the Supreme Court in the upcoming Davey case.
The Law Center’s brief supporting Davey case argued that the State of Washington’s policy wrongly disqualifies students from receiving scholarship funds if they choose to major in theology taught in a way the State of Washington deems unacceptable. The brief further pointed out that this view rests upon an illogical assumption that the money a student receives will be used to pay for Theology instruction disregarding other secular expenses a student has to take care of in pursuing their undergraduate degree.
Patrick T. Gillen, the Law Center attorney who wrote the brief said, “Essentially, the State of Washington creates a perverse and irrebuttable presumption that students like Davey will use their scholarship funds to pay for Theology instruction in order to justify its claim that providing scholarships to students like Davey constitutes unlawful state support for religion. Washington’s policy, like Michigan’s, blatantly violates the constitutional rights of religious students by allowing the state to discriminate against them when they choose to study religion.”