Upcoming Supreme Court Term Includes Important Cases on Civil Rights, Constitutional Liberties, States’ Rights

Religious Liberty: Can a State be Forced to Pay for Religious Education?

Locke v. Davey, reviewing decision in Davey v. Locke, 299 F.3d 748 ( 9th Cir.2002).

This case asks whether the state of Washington is required to grant a college scholarship to a student who wants to use it for religious education. Joshua Davey was awarded a Washington Promise Scholarship for college based on academic and financial criteria. The scholarship stated that students pursuing religious education were not eligible, pursuant to state legal and constitutional provisions prohibiting the use of state funds to help pay for religious instruction. Davey nevertheless decided to declare Pastoral Ministries as his major and sued the state when his scholarship was revoked, claiming violations of his freedom of religion, freedom of speech and equal protection rights. The district court granted summary judgment for the state, but the Ninth Circuit overturned this holding, finding that the prohibition on majoring in Theology discriminated on the basis of religion and could be upheld only if it was necessary for a compelling government purpose. The State of Washington argued that its constitution prohibits public money from being used to provide any religious instruction, or to support any religious establishment, but the Ninth Circuit rejected its contention and ruled that the state was required to give the scholarship to Davey. The Supreme Court has granted review to resolve the question of whether the State of Washington violated Davey's right to the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment by declining to give him a scholarship. Supporters of private school vouchers are urging the Court to rule that state constitutional provisions like Washington’s violate the federal constitution, hoping that such a ruling would clear the way for more voucher programs across the country.

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