Supreme Court justices appeared to be divided Tuesday in arguments over whether Joshua Davey should have received the Promise Scholarship he was eligible for but was denied because he chose to study pastoral ministry at Northwest College in Washington.
Davey applied for the scholarship in 1999, and learned that he was eligible to receive the $1,125 scholarship, which could be renewed for one year. However, just months after beginning his studies in pastoral ministries and business management and administration, he was denied the funds because of Washington State's constitution, which provides a stricter separation between church and state than does the federal constitution.
In 2000, Davey filed suit, alleging that the state violated his Constitutional right of free exercise of religion. Davey would have received the scholarship if he were not studying pastoral ministry, or if he were studying theology from a secular institution.
A federal judge ruled for the state, but Davey appealed, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit (the same court that struck down "under God" from the pledge) ruled in favor of Davey. According to The New York Times, "Washington State's appeal of that ruling has produced a Supreme Court case of potentially landmark dimensions, raising the profound question of whether, and under what circumstances, the government can carve religion out of general programs of services and benefits."
Because 36 (or 37, depending on whoyouread) other states have a similarly strict state constitutional "wall of separation" (often called Blaine Amendments), the Supreme Court's decision could have broad implications. The Washington Postwrites, "Depending on the breadth of the court's ultimate ruling, the case could ...1