- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

A college student is suing the commonwealth of Kentucky for discontinuing his public scholarship after learning that he is pursuing a degree in religious studies.
The case filed Friday on behalf of Woods Nash, a junior at Cumberland College in Williamsburg, Ky., comes one day after a federal appeals court in California upheld a ruling, issued by a three-judge panel in July, that struck down a policy in Washington state that barred theology students from receiving state scholarships.
The state of Washington sought to have the full San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reconsider the ruling of the three-judge panel. But the court rejected the plea Thursday.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a public interest law firm based in Virginia Beach, is representing Mr. Nash in the Kentucky case, just as it represented the plaintiff in the Washington case.
"The state of Kentucky is systematically discriminating against students who want to pursue a degree in religious studies by denying them state scholarship funds," said Francis J. Manion, senior counsel for the ACLJ.
He added: "The state has in place a policy that discriminates against students who choose to pursue a degree in religious studies. If a student meets the residency and academic requirements needed to receive scholarship funds, the funds cannot be withheld because a student decides to study religion. Such a policy is not only unfair, it is unconstitutional as well."
But supporters of the ban on theology students receiving state scholarships say that the funding undermines the separation of church and state.
The ACLJ filed the suit on behalf of Mr. Nash on Friday in U.S. District Court in Lexington.
The suit contends that Mr. Nash was awarded $2,900 under the Kentucky Education Excellence Scholarship program during his freshman and sophomore years in college.
But when Mr. Nash announced last October that he is majoring in philosophy-religion, he was contacted by commonwealth officials, who told him his scholarship would end because students "enrolled in programs of study leading to a degree in theology, divinity and religious education" do not qualify for the scholarship.
The federal suit filed on Mr. Nash's behalf contends that Kentucky's scholarship policy violates his constitutional rights. It notes that he has been denied further scholarship money totaling more than $2,000.
The suit argues that the state's policy violates the First and Fourth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and asks that the court declare it unconstitutional. It also asks the court to grant "injunctive relief" to stop Kentucky from "its continued use of religious discrimination."
In the case against Washington state, the ACLJ represented Joshua Davey, a student at Northwest College, a Christian institution in Kirkland, Wash.
In the 1999-2000 academic year, Mr. Davey was awarded a $1,125 Promise Scholarship, an assistance program offered by the state. He was to have received $1,500 the following year, according to the ACLJ.
But the state withdrew the money once it learned Mr. Davey was studying to become a minister.
After losing in a lower court, Mr. Davey and the ACLJ found victory in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It ruled that the state of Washington "did not have a compelling reason" to withdraw the scholarship and that it "impermissibly" deprived Mr. Davey of his financial aid.
Stuart J. Roth, senior counsel for the ACLJ, hailed the 9th Circuit's decision to uphold the ruling of the three-judge panel in the Davey case.

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