Adventist College Fights for Assistance from State Coffers
Witham, Larry, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
A Seventh-day Adventist college in Maryland has contested a state decision denying it funding given to Catholic colleges - a case that may set a legal precedent for government neutrality toward religion. The Adventist school, Columbia Union College in Takoma Park, was ruled ineligible for an estimated $800,000 annually for being "pervasively sectarian."
Maryland, which finances at least three Catholic colleges under its Father Sellinger Program for independent education, considers the Catholic entities sufficiently secular and autonomous.
Any independent college may apply for Sellinger funding, administered by the Maryland Higher Education Commission. It granted more than $28 million to 15 schools this year.
In a lawsuit filed June 12 in U.S. District Court, Columbia Union said it has been penalized "solely and expressly because of the content or viewpoint of speech and belief."
The suit was filed by the Center for Individual Rights, a public-interest legal organization that includes religious free expression among its libertarian concerns.
"I think and hope the case will have national application," said R. Hewitt Pate, the Richmond lawyer who filed the suit. "What you have around the country now is religiously based colleges at a disadvantage."
Such schools can't compete with private institutions that get government funding, and if they do seek grants, they are required to water down religious aspects of campus life.
The lawsuit says Columbia Union's rights of free speech, free exercise of religion and equal treatment under the law and guarantees of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were violated.
That act says government must show a "compelling state interest" to restrict a religious group or person.
"The service our institution renders to society is not essentially religious, it's essentially educational," Columbia Union President Charles Scriven said. …