AU Urges High Court to Uphold Separation in State Constitutions

Article excerpt

The U.S. Constitution does not require the state of Washington to give tuition aid to a ministerial student, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told the Supreme Court.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed July 17, Americans United and allied organizations assert that a state law and provisions in the Washington State Constitution barring the use of public funds for religious instruction are permissible to ensure the separation of church and state. The nation's founders, notes AU, repeatedly rejected the use of tax money to pay for religion.

The Supreme Court will hear the Locke v. Davey case during its 2003-04 term, which begins next month. The legal controversy is being closely watched and is considered one of the most important church-state cases to reach the court in decades.

At risk are state laws and constitutional provisions in 37 states that explicitly bar government funding of religion.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that it is discrimination against religion for Washington to offer scholarships for secular education but deny assistance to Joshua Davey to study pastoral ministries at an Assemblies of God college.

Americans United disagrees and in its brief asks the high court to rule that states have considerable leeway in arranging their church-state relationships.

Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, says the stakes in the Washington case are high.

"Groups that oppose church-state separation have been trying to mandate government funding of religion for years," Lynn remarked. "They see this case as their best chance to win a ruling that state funding of religion is not only permissible, but in some cases, required. …