News: Religious Discrimination Case

Colorado Christian University Mounts Legal Challenge to Religious Discrimination in Colorado Student Aid Programs

Colorado Christian University (CCU) filed a lawsuit in federal court on December 6, 2004 challenging Colorado's student aid programs that discriminate against religious schools and universities. On behalf of CCU, the Center for Law & Religious Freedom of the Christian Legal Society filed the suit against the Colorado Commission on Higher Education (CCHE), which administers state student aid programs.

CCU applied to participate in Colorado's state-funded student financial aid programs in September 2003. CCHE denied the application on the sole ground that the school was "pervasively sectarian." The lawsuit alleges that Colorado's exclusion of CCU and its students from state aid programs violates the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The suit also asks the court to review CCHE's decision under the Colorado Administrative Procedure Act.

The Colorado legislature denied aid to students attending schools labeled "pervasively sectarian" in the statutes creating the student aid programs. The legislature directed CCHE to examine factors such as the religious commitments of students, faculty, and the governing board, the content of the curriculum, and the school's sources of funding to determine whether the school is "pervasively sectarian" and thus excluded from state aid programs. The programs created by the Colorado legislature, designed to help residents meet the growing costs of higher education, include: the Colorado Leveraging Education Assistance Partnership Program, the Supplemental Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program, Colorado Student Grants, Colorado Graduate Grants, the Governor's Opportunity Scholarship, and the College Opportunity Fund.

"Colorado wisely supports its residents' pursuit of higher education," said Dr. Larry Donnithorne, President of CCU. "However, certain state statutes deny Coloradans the full range of educational options. We filed this lawsuit in order to end religious discrimination in Colorado's state student aid programs."

"Colorado's religiously discriminatory student aid laws reflect an outdated understanding of 'separation of church and state,'" said Center for Law & Religious Freedom Director Gregory S. Baylor, "The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held in recent years that the Constitution does not require government to discriminate against religion."

The Alliance Defense Fund of Scottsdale, Arizona and Thomas N. Scheffel of Denver are also representing CCU in the suit.