CCU Triumphs in Legal Battle, Milestone Gain Toward Helping Students Receive State Aid
Colorado Christian University emerged victorious on Wednesday after years of legal dispute with the Colorado Commission on Higher Education over denial of state-funded financial aid for CCU students. A three-judge panel of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the University, noting that students should not have to "choose between their religious beliefs and receiving a governmental benefit." The decision moves CCU another step closer toward helping its students receive equal opportunity in paying for college.
In 2003, CCU applied to take part in Colorado's College Opportunity Fund, which offers financial aid to undergraduate students who qualify for in-state tuition rates. The Commission responded by classifying CCU as "pervasively sectarian," a label that by state law disqualified CCU students from receiving state aid. The University filed a lawsuit in 2004; however, in 2007, Colorado U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger ruled in favor of the Commission. CCU appealed Krieger's decision, contending that the Commission's rejection of its application violated the First and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
While the district court disagreed, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals found that the Commission's program "expressly discriminates among religions without constitutional justification, and its criteria for doing so involve unconstitutionally intrusive scrutiny of religious belief and practice." Moreover, state scholarship funds had already been awarded to students enrolled at Methodist and Roman Catholic universities. In agreement with CCU, the circuit court ordered the district court's ruling reversed and a summary judgment granted in favor of the University. The circuit court specified that "federal law does not require Colorado to discriminate against Colorado Christian University in its funding programs. Rather, the parties' dispute centers on whether the State may nonetheless choose to exclude pervasively sectarian institutions, as defined by Colorado law, even when not required to. We conclude that it may not."
The news was a belated breath of fresh air for many CCU students. "I received some scholarship money from CCU for academics, but not nearly as much as I would have if I had gone to school somewhere else," commented CCU senior Jillian Walkowski, an elementary education major from Colorado Springs, Colorado. "That policy never seemed fair to me, but I still wanted to go to CCU."
While opponents decry the injustice of the circuit court ruling, and additional steps must still be taken toward approving CCU's application for state financial aid, the University praises God for the tremendous milestone. CCU president Bill Armstrong stated, "I am thankful for the outcome -- this is a great victory not only for our students but also the First and Fourteenth amendments."