Christians Assert Religious-Freedom Rights
Fights over religious liberty are raging right now in Minnesota and Maine.
From The Christian Post. A lawsuit has been filed against the state of Minnesota over a law excluding religious colleges and universities from a program that enables high school students to obtain no-cost college credit.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced last week that it was filing a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota following the Democrat-controlled Minnesota Legislature’s amendment of the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program to exclude institutions that “require a faith statement from a secondary student seeking to enroll in a postsecondary course” or “base any part of the admission decision based on a student’s race, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation or religious beliefs or affiliations.”
As explained in the complaint, the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program seeks to “promote ‘rigorous academic pursuits’ and to provide a ‘wider variety of options’ to high school students by enabling them to enroll full time or part time at eligible postsecondary institutions” and thereby “simultaneously earn both high school and college credit, cost-free.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of parents Melinda Loe, Mark Loe, Dawn Erickson and their children, as well as Crown College and the University of Northwestern-St. Paul, names Minnesota’s Democrat Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota Commissioner of Education Willie Jett and the Minnesota Department of Education as defendants. Its May 24 filing coincides with Walz’s signature of the changes to the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program, which are slated to go into effect July 1.
The complaint identifies the changes to the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program as violations of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses as well as the Equal Protection Clause’s ban on discrimination based on religion. It asks a federal judge to declare the revisions unconstitutional in addition to requesting awards for damages and attorneys’ fees.
“Minnesota politicians just slammed the door on thousands of kids in their state who want to get a head start on college, all because the schools they want to attend share their religious beliefs,” said Becket Senior Counsel Diana Thomson in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “That decision is not only patently anti-religious; it is also against the law.”
Plaintiffs Mark and Melinda Loe elaborated on how the changes to the Postsecondary Enrollment Options program directly impacted them: “The PSEO program guarantees all students equal opportunity to pursue excellent academics at a school of their choice. It gave our older children a head start on college in Christ-centered communities at Northwestern and Crown. All we want is for the rest of our children to have the same opportunity to be educated in an environment consistent with their religious beliefs.”
“Rather than discriminating against people of faith, Minnesota should be looking for ways to help all students find a school that best fits their interests and values,” they added. University of Northwestern-St. Paul President Corbin Hoornbeek described his institution as “the largest PSEO provider in Minnesota” and outlined its purpose as to “provide Christ-centered education, equipping students to grow intellectually and spiritually, to serve effectively in their professions, and to give God-honoring leadership in the home, church, community, and world.”
Noting Northwestern’s desire to “continue helping on-campus PSEO students flourish in preparation for the next chapter of their academic journey,” Hoornbeek expressed hope that “the court will uphold our ability to do so, just like any other Minnesota school is permitted to do.” Crown College President Andrew Denton offered a similar analysis, asserting that “the First Amendment protects our current and future PSEO students’ right to participate in PSEO without abandoning our faith.”
“Even in the face of legislation designed to hinder students who want the education we provide, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting our mission and our community’s deeply held religious beliefs,” Denton asserted. The lawsuit comes a week after the Minnesota Legislature amended the statute governing the PSEO program as part of HF 2497, a massive education bill Walz signed into law Wednesday.
On May 16, the Democrat-controlled Minnesota House of Representatives approved HF 2497 in a 70-62 vote that fell along party lines, with all votes in favor of the measure coming from Democrats and all votes in opposition coming from Republicans. That same day, the Democrat-controlled Minnesota Senate approved the measure in a 35-32 vote, with one Republican joining all Democrats in supporting it and all other Republicans voting against it.
From The Christian Post. A Maine church that’s outgrowing its existing meeting space and applied to the local school board to use a facility at a high school for its services saw its application denied allegedly after board members inquired about the congregation’s views on hot-button issues like same-sex marriage, abortion and transgenderism.
The Pines Church in Bangor, Maine, applied for the lease of a space at a local high school in Hermon. However, the school board rejected the application following inquiries into the church’s positions on various sociopolitical issues, including same-sex marriages and abortion, according to media reports.
Represented by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a nonprofit law firm specializing in religious freedom cases, The Pines Church last week filed a lawsuit against Hermon School Committee, The Daily Signal reported.
“Public institutions that seek to lease their facilities for revenue should not be able to discriminate based on religious or political conviction,” Mariah Gondeiro, vice president and legal counsel for Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said in a statement.
“The Hermon School Committee has a history of leasing their properties to secular organizations without persecution. We are advocating for fair and equitable treatment under the law, and The Pines Church was denied that opportunity by the Hermon School Committee,” Gondeiro added.
The Pines Church had hoped to relocate to Hermon, where a large portion of its congregation resides, as other rental spaces were unavailable, CBN news said, adding, however, that during the application process, Superintendent Micah Grant and a member of the school board posed questions regarding the church’s stance on diversity, equity and inclusion.
Chris McLaughlin, a school board member, asked The Pines Church about its approach toward issues impacting marginalized communities. Questions asked included the church’s stance on same-sex marriages, access to abortion, so-called “gender-affirming care,” conversion therapy (counseling for unwanted same-sex attractions) and inclusive sexual education.
The church believes these questions were an attempt to enforce religious and political conformity.
In response to these inquiries, the church’s legal representation argues in a lawsuit that the implications of the school board’s questions are clear: unless The Pines Church aligns with the school board’s religious and political beliefs, the board will not approve its lease proposal.
The suit further states that the school board’s actions are discriminatory, viewing religious institutions holding traditional views as second-class members of the community. The church is now calling for its rights under the First Amendment, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and for Maine’s public accommodations laws to be upheld.
According to the lawsuit, the board ultimately rejected Pastor Matt Gioia’s lease proposal due to the church’s religious beliefs. Instead, the board offered a month-to-month lease, which the church found unfeasible due to planning and budgeting constraints.
“We are understandably disappointed with the process in which we had to go through, but we are not discouraged,” Pastor Gioia was quoted as saying. “We have seen the Lord move through our church and grow our community so much since our founding. We are hopeful that we will be able to continue our worship and fellowship without discrimination.”
The lawsuit seeks to mandate the school board to grant the church either a six-month or a yearlong lease and award the church compensatory damages.
How are you praying for religious liberty? Share this article to encourage others to pray.
Partner with Us
Intercessors for America is the trusted resource for millions of people across the United States committed to praying for our nation. If you have benefited from IFA's resources and community, please consider joining us as a monthly support partner. As a 501(c)3 organization, it's through your support that all this possible.