DENVER A federal appeals court has sided with a Christian university’s argument that the state’s denial of financial aid to its students is unconstitutional.
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday reversed a lower court’s decision that had upheld denial of the state aid to students of Colorado Christian University in Lakewood.
The nondenominational university of about 2,000 students applied in 2003 to take part in the state’s College Opportunity Fund, which makes stipends available to Colorado undergraduate students who qualify for in-state tuition. The school filed a lawsuit in 2004 after the Colorado Commission on Higher Education found the university to be “pervasively sectarian.”
State law forbids appropriations “to any denominational or sectarian institution or association.”
A three-judge panel of the appeals court, ruling in Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, found that the state’s denial of state aid to the college was unconstitutional because the program “discriminates among religions without constitutional justification and its criteria for doing so involve unconstitutionally intrusive scrutiny of religious belief and practice.”
The state gave scholarships to students attending Methodist and Roman Catholic universities.
“Religious discrimination has no place under the First Amendment and the court rightly struck down this discriminatory law” said Gary McCaleb, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund, which represented Colorado Christian University.
Attorneys with the Christian Legal Society also represented the school.
The appeals court decision is a serious setback for religious liberty in Colorado, the Mountain States Office of the Anti-Defamation League said in a written statement. Bruce DeBoskey, the league’s regional director, said the state’s long-standing efforts to prevent the funding of “pervasively sectarian institutions” were intended to ensure that government and religion don’t mix, which protects all Coloradans’ rights to practice their religion.