Monday, May 21, 2007

Fed Judge to Christians: States Don't Owe You Student Aid

A federal judge has found against Colorado Christian University (motto: "We were CCU before that upstart in Cincinnati") in its suit to compel the state of Colorado to give its students the same student aid grant given to students at Colorado's other private colleges.

Colorado's state financial aid grant, as we understand it, gave about $2.5k annually to each Colorado student attending a Colorado private college, if that college is not "pervasively sectarian." By that phrase, the legislators of the Rocky Mountain state meant that religious ideas and values are found throughout the curriculum, faculty must subscribe to a specific set of religious beliefs, religious observance is mandatory for students, and such like. In other words, they meant a distinctively and overtly religious college, not just a college with a religious affiliation.

Before Christians get up in arms about this, let's remind ourselves that the court simply affirmed the power of the legislature to decide how tax money gets spent. There's no obligation for the state of Colorado to tax people to underwrite higher education at all. And the court found that there was nothing inherently discriminatory in this law. It doesn't prevent anyone from attending any college or from doing anything connected to any faith.

Colorado Christian's attorneys, with a supporting brief from the Bush administration, had argued that the law required a decision as to how religious is too religious. Indeed, it does. But the standards seem to have been set pretty clearly and evenhandedly.

Colorado Christian must now find a way to compensate for its financial competitive disadvantage relative to other in-state private colleges. But Colorado Christian now also has a powerful tool for raising funds for student aid. We suspect that they'll come out all right in the end.

This decision, by the way, should have little effect on similar programs in other states. Unless a legislature decides to exclude a particular category of education or a particular kind of institution (Washington did the same in excluding theology majors), existing programs will go on without any effect. In Ohio, the Ohio Choice Grant is given to any Ohio student who attends a regionally accredited private college in Ohio, regardless of the religious affiliation of the college or the religious nature of the degree program.

We don't live in Colorado, but we suspect that there's considerable ideological polarization in the state. On the one hand, Colorado Springs has become the Evangelical Vatican, presided over by Pope James Dobson. On the other hand, Boulder is the navel of the earth for denizens of the Loony Left, who wear clothing made of hem and pedal their recumbent bicycles out to their organic marijuana patches to apply the compost that they've made from free-trade coffee grounds. So it's no surprise that a restriction on student aid funding should arise there.

Boulder is also home to Naropa University, as far as we know the only avowedly Buddhist university in the United States. If we were a citizen of Colorado, we would be happy for our taxes not to fund the folks studying meditation techniques there. We wonder whether they're excluded as well. We hope so.


Bryan D said...

The revocation of funds from seminarians has been coming for a long time now so that, infuriating as it is, it is no surprise (I believe the same ruling was upheld in Washington three years or so ago).

However, it is this "sectarian" word that is truly bothersome to me. I did not know that American law had introduced that insiduous term.

I will demonstrate why I regard the "sectarian" word with fear and trembling:

Last year Labour in Scotland passed a law which allowed for the arrest of anyone who made "sectarian statements" in public. Originally the public imagined that this would mean an end to abusive and derogatory religiously based language. But the law has already gone much further than that. Now sectarianism is being interpreted by lawkeepers and makers as "the declaration of the primacy of any one religion" or "religious triumphalism."

The way this is evolving is to squash any religious based dialogue and to quell the growing evangelical tide in Scottish religion.

In brief, I'm afraid of the sectarian label because it is already coming dangerously close to preventing me from doing what I, as a Christian, believe I should be doing.

JB in CA said...

Soka University in Aliso Viejo, CA (with a branch located about three miles from where I live, a mile from a Hindu Temple, and another four miles from a Christian University [Pepperdine]) is also an avowedly Buddhist university. It's affiliated with the Soka Gakkai sect.