Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America strongly criticized a ruling by the United States Supreme Court which, the Union said, “is a frontal assault upon the…First Amendment [of the Constitution].” The ruling was announced this morning in the case of Locke v. Davey in which the UOJCA joined in filing a “friend of the court” brief in support of Mr. Joshua Davey.
The case arose 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 The scholarship was revoked when the State learned that Davey decided to attend Northwest College a (duly accredited Christian college) and pursue as one of his two majors Pastoral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. The UOJCA agreed with the Appeals court analysis, but this morning the Supreme Court rejected that position.
The Supreme Court ruled against Mr. Davey by reasoning that the revocation of his scholarship was not a sufficiently serious infringement, like a criminal sanction or fine, upon his religious liberty, and that Davey remains free to pursue his religious studies, albeit without the support of the state scholarship. UOJCA public policy director Nathan Diament, issued the following statement as an initial reaction to the Court’s ruling:
Today is a sad day for America’s “first freedom” of religious liberty. Our nation’s highest court has approved state action which denies a person a government benefit solely upon the basis that the person is engaged in what the Court acknowledges is constitutionally protected religious exercise. This is a frontal assault upon the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. In the coming days we will assess the Court’s opinion closely and try to identify means of remedying this terrible ruling which all Americans who cherish liberty should find worrisome.”