Razing Blaine

The Washington state scholarship had Joshua Davey's name all over it: class valedictorian, perfect grades, attending a Washington school. But when, in 1999, Davey decided to double-major in business administration and theology at the Assemblies of God-affiliated Northwest College, Washington pulled the scholarship.

"It was simply a matter of his choice of degree that excluded him from eligibility for state financial aid," Carolyn Busch, executive policy adviser to Washington Gov. Gary Locke, told The Washington Times in a June 2000 article (not available online anymore, but discussed in an old Weblog). "We try to be as open as we can on our policies, but when a student chooses a theology degree, then they are not eligible for state financial aid."

That's because of Washington's constitution, which has something called a Blaine Amendment forbidding the use of public funds for religious purposes. Such amendments appear in 36 other state constitutions, which were created in the late 1800s to fight Roman Catholicism (they're named for James Blaine, who tried to get such an amendment in the U.S. Constitution). At least 14 states specifically prohibit theology majors from receiving state scholarships.

Last July, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the Blaine Amendment, saying it discriminated "in such a way as to suppress a religious point of view."

Yesterday, the Supreme Court promised to take up the case in its next term, and many observers are saying it could be a landmark decision for religious liberty issues. And the bets are that the Supreme Court will agree with the 9th circuit on this one, since last year's Zelman v. Simmons-Harris decision allowing religious schools to receive state-funded tuition ...

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