Jul 24, 2008

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Thanks to a federal appeals court decision yesterday, taxpayers funds in Colorado may soon subsidize colleges that preach during class time, expect attendance at religious services and require students to sign agreements promising to emulate "the example of Jesus Christ and the teachings of the Bible."

Prior to this decision, students who attended these "pervasively sectarian" religious colleges were rightfully ineligible for state-funded scholarships under Colorado law. The state program included both public and private colleges, but religiously affiliated colleges were eligible only under certain circumstances. They could not require attendance at religious services, could not proselytize during school activities and could not require board and staff members to belong to a particular religion.

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, written by Judge Michael McConnell, said the Colorado law prohibiting state-funded scholarships for "pervasively sectarian" colleges amounted to discrimination among religions and was unconstitutional.

"By giving scholarship money to students who attend sectarian -- but not 'pervasively' sectarian -- universities, Colorado necessarily and explicitly discriminates among religious institutions, extending scholarship to students at some religious institutions, but not to those deemed too thoroughly 'sectarian' by government officials," McConnell wrote. "This is discrimination 'on the basis of religious views or religious status.'"

We always knew McConnell would be up to no good on the federal bench. Prior to his nomination by President George W. Bush in 2002, Americans United warned of his hostility toward church-state separation. And here we are, six years later, with a judicial opinion that erodes church-state separation by painting it as discrimination.

The real discrimination here is that practiced by "pervasively sectarian" universities such as Colorado Christian University, which brought the case. Not everyone in the state can attend the school, since it requires a commitment to a particular religious belief. Why should the state's taxpayers support a school that discriminates against students who do not want to attend chapel weekly (at CCU, students who miss chapel must pay a fine) and who refuse to sign statements promising to live as Jesus lived?

The school even discriminates in its hiring of staff, who must sign a statement affirming  "the Bible as the infallible Word of God, the existence of God in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the divinity of Jesus Christ, and principles of salvation, present ministry, resurrection, and 'the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.'"

If job applicants don't sign, they can't work there. It's interesting that McConnell failed to notice that discrimination. Taxpayers should not be forced to support a religious institution that won't hire them or admit them as students because they're the "wrong" religion.

It would have been best if Colorado's scholarship program was directed at public colleges only, and private schools were supported by tuition and donations. Then McConnell couldn't even claim that it was discrimination among religious institutions.

Government funds should be kept strictly separate from any religious agenda, and then we could have avoided this mess altogether.