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Locke v. Davey Supreme Court Case

"When a State chooses to award scholarships based on neutral criteria to financially needy, academically gifted students, does the State violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution when it discriminatorily strips the scholarship from an otherwise eligible student for the sole reason that the student declares a major in theology taught from a religious perspective?"

— Question presented to the Supreme Court of the United States

Joshua Davey was awarded a Washington Promise Scholarship on the basis of his financial need and academic performance in high school. But Washington state revoked the scholarship when Davey declared a double major of Pastoral Ministries and Business Management and Administration, the argument being that "Davey's coursework towards his Pastoral Ministries major was taught from a viewpoint that the Bible represents 'truth,' and is 'foundational,' as opposed to a purely academic study of the Bible."

The state ruling was based on a provision in the Washington state constitution that dates back to the Blaine Amendment of 1875, which was brought before the U.S. Congress to ban the spending of government money by religious organizations during a time of rampant anti-Catholicism. The proposed amendment failed to win approval by the federal government, but over half of the states in the union, including Washington, have incorporated versions of it into their state constitutions.

The issue in Locke v. Davey is whether a state constitution can have a different level of separation between church and state than the federal constitution. The Arizona Supreme Court recently described a similar provision in the Arizona state constitution as a "clear manifestation of religious bigotry."

In this case, a lower court sided with Washington state, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned that decision, saying that the state was discriminating against Davey on the basis of religion.

The implications of this case are far-reaching. Opponents of school voucher programs for religious institutions have seized upon Blaine Amendments as weapons in their assaults on school choice, and in doing so, have successfully blocked vouchers in Maine, Vermont, and Puerto Rico.

On February 25, 2004, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Locke v. Davey, deciding with a 7-2 majority that the state Constitution's attempt to separate government and religion, by ensuring that state funds did not go to fund the training of clergy was not discriminating against religion; rather, Washington state was acknowledging that "religion instruction is of a different ilk" than other instruction. It is expected to affect government aid programs for students at religious colleges and universities, school voucher programs, and faith-based initiatives.

Sources: International Broadcasting Bureau; Blaine Amendments; Intellectual Conservative; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; Supreme Court of the United States

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