Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization – through its Institute for Public Affairs, will call upon the United States Supreme Court to guarantee that college students who qualify for state-funded scholarships are not disqualified on the basis of religiously discriminatory policies. The high court will hear arguments in the case of Locke v. Davey in which the UOJCA joined in filing a ‘friend of the court brief’ under the aegis of the National Jewish Commission On Law & Public Affairs, which was principally authored by Washington , D.C. attorney and Union board member Nathan Lewin.
The case arises from a decision by Washington State to revoke its award of a “Promise Scholarship” to Joshua Davey. Washington established the Promise program to reward achieving students and encourage their further study in-state. Davey met all of eligibility criteria (which had nothing to do with religion) and was awarded his Promise Scholarship. The scholarship was revoked when the State learned that Davey decided to attend Northwest College a (duly accredited Christian college) and pursue as one of his two majors Pastoral Studies. Upon his scholarship being revoked, Davey sued claiming that his constitutionally protected rights to the free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and equal protection rights were violated. Washington State asserted that their revocation of his scholarship was required by a state constitutional ban on public funds supporting religious activity. (Washington’s “Blaine Amendment,” is shared by 37 other state constitutions.) While a trial court ruled for Washington, the federal appeals court ruled in favor of Davey. The U.S. Court of Appeals stated that the policy disqualifying Davey “lacked neutrality on its face” and that forcing Davey to choose between forgoing his chosen course of study or foregoing his scholarship was a clear violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which could not be ignored on the basis of a state constitutional provision.
Nathan J. Diament, the Union’s director of public policy, issued the following statement in connection with the case’s hearing:
Tomorrow, the U.S. Supreme Court will have the opportunity to repudiate state policies and practices that seek to justify nothing other than religious discrimination under the rhetoric of promoting the separation of religion and state. The Framers of the U.S. Constitution wisely guaranteed each American the individual liberty of the Free Exercise of religion. No state should be permitted to deny a citizen from participating in a program or receiving a benefit for which s/he duly qualifies because that citizen engages in the fundamental right of religious exercise. We are confident the Court will rule for Joshua Davey and against religious bigotry.