WASHINGTON High court vote OKs denying scholarships
Justices Scalia and Thomas were the dissenters.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court, in a new rendering on separation of church and state, voted today to let states withhold scholarships from students studying theology.
The court's 7-2 ruling held that the state of Washington was within its rights to deny a taxpayer-funded scholarship to a college student who was studying to be a minister. That holding applies even when money is available to students studying anything else.
"Training someone to lead a congregation is an essentially religious endeavor," Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist wrote for the court majority. "Indeed, majoring in devotional theology is akin to a religious calling as well as an academic pursuit."
The case is a departure from recent church-state fights in which the Supreme Court has gradually allowed greater state sponsorship of religious activities. Justice Rehnquist is usually a supporter of that idea.
Today's case has implications for President Bush's plan to allow more church-based organizations to compete for government money, and the Bush administration argued that the state had been wrong to yank the scholarship from former student Joshua Davey.
Davey won a state Promise Scholarship, but the state rescinded the money when it learned what he planned to study.
Like 36 other states, Washington prohibits spending public funds on this kind of religious education. Bans on public funds for religious education, often known as Blaine amendments, date to the 19th century, when anti-Catholic sentiment ran high.
Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
"Let there be no doubt: This case is about discrimination against a religious minority," Justice Scalia wrote for the two.
"In an era when the court is so quick to come to the aid of other disfavored groups, its indifference in this case, which involves a form of discrimination to which the Constitution actually speaks, is exceptional."