Citation. 540 U.S. 712, 124 S.Ct. 1307, 158 L.Ed.2d 1 (2004).
Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff majored in religion and was denied state scholarship funds. He challenged the state’s denial, arguing it violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
So long as there is a substantial and historical state interest in doing so, a state may have a discriminatory practice that consequently affects religion under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Washington state created a scholarship program to assist academically gifted students with postsecondary education expenses. Students were prohibited from using the scholarships to pursue degrees in devotional theology. Plaintiff brought suit, arguing this prohibition violated his rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
Whether the prohibition on using scholarship funds for degrees in devotional theology violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
No. The prohibition on using scholarship funds for degrees in devotional theology does not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.
The Court offers no authority for approving facial discrimination against religion simply because its material consequences are not severe. The Court also does not explain why legislature motive matters and I fail to see why it should.
There is no logical limit and the Court could justify singling out of religion for exclusion from public programs in virtually any context. What’s next? Will we deny priests their prescription drug benefits?
I write separately to note that the study of theology does not necessarily implicate religious devotion or faith. Theology include a secular perspective as well as a religious one.
The fact that a state would deal differently with religious education for the ministry than education for other callings is not evidence of hostility towards religion. Indeed, the program goes a long way to including religion in its benefits because it permits students to attend pervasively religious schools so long as they are accredited.
Moreover, we find neither in the history or text of the Washington Constitution, nor in the operation of the program, any evidence of hostility toward religion. Given the historic and substantial state interest at issue, we therefore cannot conclude that the denial of funding is inherently constitutionally suspect.