OLYMPIA - The Attorney General's Office today petitioned the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to review a decision by a three-judge 9th Circuit panel that would require the state to offer scholarship money to college students majoring in theology.
The Higher Education Coordinating Board, which oversees the scholarship program, endorsed the decision.
"We were surprised that a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit reversed an earlier decision," said Marc Gaspard, executive director of the Higher Education Coordinating Board. "Because of the potential effect of this ruling on other financial aid programs and issues surrounding our state Constitution, we believe the Attorney General's course of action at this time is appropriate."
The issue in the case is whether a state law barring financial aid to students who pursue degrees in theology violates the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the free exercise of religion. The state contends that the Constitution does not require it to provide public money to enable citizens to exercise constitutional rights.
A provision in the state Constitution prohibits the use of public money for any "religious worship, exercise or instruction."
But in a 2-1 decision announced July 18, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit ruled that the rights of a student majoring in business and pastoral ministries were violated because state financial aid was not offered to him. The case is Joshua Davey v. Gary Locke.
The full 9th Circuit may take several weeks to decide whether to review the decision.