- The Washington Times - Monday, May 19, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Supreme Court said yesterday that it will consider when government money can be spent on religious education, a follow-up to last year’s landmark ruling upholding school voucher programs.

The latest case involves students in training to become ministers or other church leaders. Fifteen states have constitutional bans on state spending for theology classes.

Justices will decide next year whether those bans are trumped by a person’s freedom to practice religion, which is guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.

The case, involving a Washington state theology student, puts the court back into the highly charged debate over the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.

The Supreme Court has been split sharply in recent cases, approving limited use of taxpayer money at religious schools. The latest was a 5-4 ruling in which the court held that government vouchers are constitutional if they provide parents a choice among a range of religious and secular schools.

That case involved taxpayer money to underwrite private or parochial school tuition. At issue now is taxpayer money to help college students.

A Washington state student wanted to use that state’s grant program, known as Promise Scholarship, to help pay his tuition at Northwest College, which is affiliated with the Assemblies of God. The state initially approved Joshua Davey for $1,125 in 1999 but then refused to allow it to go through because he was majoring in theology.

An appeals court panel ruled 2-1 that Washington state was wrong to withhold the money.

The Supreme Court will hear the state appeal of that decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Also yesterday, the court:

• Avoided a church-state question over prayer at city council meetings. The court refused to hear an appeal from the city of Burbank, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb of about 200,000 people. Two lower courts ruled that the Burbank City Council may not begin meetings with sectarian prayers, such as one that invoked the name Jesus Christ and triggered a lawsuit. Irv Rubin, the late chairman of the Jewish Defense League, and Roberto Alejandro Gandara, a supporter of strict church-state separation, sued over the 1999 prayer by a Mormon minister. The case is Burbank v. Rubin, 02-1379.

• Refused to consider an appeal over $2.5 million paid to Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in a failed Baton Rouge, La., real estate development. A lower federal court had ruled last year that the televangelist did not have to return the money. The case is Hays v. Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, 02-1281.


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