Wednesday, February 25, 2004

On Locke vs. Davey


from NYT - Supreme Court Approves Denial of Divinity Scholarships

The Supreme Court ruled today, in a case watched by public officials and educators across the country, that the states can withhold public scholarship money from students pursuing religious studies.

The justices decided, 7 to 2, that Washington State had the right to deny scholarship aid to a college student who was studying to be a minister.


The two justices disagreeing were, predictably, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. In their opinion,

"The indignity of being singled out for special burdens on the basis of one's religious calling is so profound that the concrete harm produced can never be dismissed as insubstantial," Justice Scalia wrote.


I totally agree. However, the question is whether the person was indeed "singled out" on the basis of his religious calling. The person, especially the specific person in question, had a choice of pursuing his religious calling without a state scholarship that explicitly does not provide money for devotional theology degrees or pursuing a non-religious carreer in which case he could have scholarship money. Mr. Davey tried having it both ways by pursuing two degrees at the same time. However, he was in no way prohibited from participating in any kind of religious ceremonies or activities by the conditions of his scholarship. He was not prohibited from actually studying theology - only of training to become a minister. Should Washington State pay for the training of ministers (and rabbis, imams, etc.) ? I think most people would agree that would be difficult to reconcile with the consitution.


Moreover, I think it is an interesting twist that were he allowed to proceed in his studies using scholarship money ACLU would surely claim that this was a blatant violation of the "wall between church and state". IMO, that is precisely the reason Washington State originally excluded full-time pursuit of theological degrees from a list of programs its Scholarship Program could be used for. The State erred on the "state side" as it were of the Amendment. How could they not?

Could they have extended excluding funding for any theological courses from being covered by the scholarship? Perhaps. Would that be undue restriction on one's freedom to exercise the religion? Probably not. However, since it would be impractical (impossible?) to determine with any certainly whether an individual is planning to take a class in order to learn history, ethics, or as a multi-cultural requirement instead of a solemn theological obligation it makes sense to keep the study of religion as a funded activity and merely prohibit intentional training for ministry as a degree fundable by a secular tax polity such as Wash. State.

"The American Center for Law and Justice, a law firm founded by the religious broadcaster Pat Robertson, said the ruling 'clearly sanctions religious discrimination.'"

Somehow I do not think this what this law firm would say this if Mr. Davies sought to become an imam or a budhist lama. [ed - how do firms "speak"? why was no spokesperson's name mentioned?] More importantly, the ruling clearly sanctions only the ability of State not to fund religious education. Perhaps distatesfully to the abovementioned firm, the Supremes kept to leveling the playing field for all religions, without singling out any one of them.

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