Can the government deny a student a state-funded scholarship for majoring in theology? In Locke v. Davey, the Supreme Court says Yes.
Washington state resident Joshua Davey received a state-funded Promise Scholarship in 1999 to apply toward his college degree. The needs-based scholarship for academic excellence was good at any accredited college, including the Assemblies of God-affiliated Northwest College where Davey enrolled. But when Davey announced a double major in business management and pastoral ministries, the state rescinded his scholarship. Officials cited state laws that prohibit public funding of religious instruction. Last fall the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Davey's favor.
Washington is among three dozen states that have laws known as Blaine amendments, which are designed to prevent public funding of religious entities.
"Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," said Chief Justice William Rehnquist, writing for the 7-2 majority in a decision handed down February 25.
Don Argue, president of Northwest College, was surprised and disappointed. "This ruling could have dramatic ramifications, as it seems to now allow discrimination based on religion," Argue said in a statement. "This is a sad day."
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed an amicus brief on behalf of Davey, saw the glass as half full. President Kevin J. Hasson said the high court did not rule on the constitutionality of Washington's Blaine amendment, thus leaving open the possibility of the state permitting Promise scholars to pursue theological degrees.
"We're disappointed about this particular battle, but more optimistic than ever about the war," Hasson told Christianity Today. "Impending ...