The state of Washington is currently being sued by the Institute for Justice, Summit Christian Academy and a number of Whitworth University students for refusing to allow potential employers from participating in its work-study program simply because these employers happen to be religious.
The work-study program, has not only refused to consider what it calls “sectarian” employers, but also fails to take into account the fact that many of the students who would be working at the Summit Christian Academy would be teaching entirely non-religious subjects such as math and English.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are being represented by the Institute for Justice, which has accurately noted that Washington state’s government is infringing on students’ and potential employers’ First Amendment rights. Furthermore, as the Institute for Justice points out, the Constitution requires governments to be neutral towards religious institutions, not hostile towards them. The Supreme Court recently affirmed this principle when judging the Trinity Lutheran case in 2017. At that time, a 7-2 majority found that the Missouri state government violated the rights of a church-run preschool by refusing to allow the preschool access to a state grant program for playground resurfacing for the sole reason that the preschool was run by a church.
It is also interesting to note that provisions in Washington state’s constitution that could be seen as barring the state from providing any sorts of benefits to religious organizations are based on the Blaine Amendments from the 1800s. These outdated laws were not instituted to maintain separation of religion and state, but rather to discriminate against Catholic educational institutions in favor of promoting Protestant ones.
The Blaine Amendments, which were drawn up by 19th century Congressman James Blaine, were originally created as a potential addition to the Constitution, but were rejected. Unfortunately, a number of states incorporated them into their own constitutions, and attorney generals who rely on their principles don’t seem to realize that the word “sectarian” included in the law specifically meant Catholic rather than religious. What is more, even states that didn’t incorporate the Blaine Amendments into law often use them as guidelines for creating anti-religious state policies.
Indeed, The Institute for Justice has already filed a similar case in Maine — even though Maine has never incorporated the Blaine amendments before. The case has been filed on behalf of several parents who, under Maine’s tuition laws, cannot claim state funding if they opt to send their children to a religious high school. As is the case in Washington, Maine’s tuition program specifically excludes religious educational institutions for no other reason than the fact that they are religious.
When the Founding Fathers made the separation of church and state a part of the United States Constitution, it was done to create an atmosphere of religious liberty in the country, allowing churches of all denominations to operate freely without Federal intrusion and persecution. Unfortunately, the country has come a long way since it was founded almost 250 years ago.
Many state governments are using separation of church and state as an excuse to actively discriminate against religious parents, students, employers and Christian schools — denying them the same rights afforded to non-religious entities. Thankfully, the Trinity Lutheran case has made it clear that programs involving state funding cannot refuse to accept religious applicants based solely on the fact that they are religious.
Hopefully state governments will begin to catch on to the fact that Christians and other religions in the country have the same rights as secular institutions, and provide them with equal opportunities. Allowing students to choose a religious school or employer does not infringe on the rights of non-religious employers or students; instead, it provides additional job and educational opportunities that benefit everyone involved.
~ Liberty Planet