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Schools branded “pervasively sectarian” in Colorado receive discriminatory treatment

ADF and CLS file challenge to policy denying aid to students at religious schools

DENVER—Attorneys with the Alliance Defense Fund and Christian Legal Society filed a federal civil rights lawsuit Monday on behalf of Colorado Christian University challenging Colorado’s rules that exclude religious schools from student aid programs if the state deems them “pervasively sectarian.”

“The state should not be in the business of determining when religion is too religious,” said ADF Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull.  “Religious colleges and universities are not second-class institutions simply because they are religious, and the students attending them are no less deserving of aid than students attending non-religious schools.”

L. Martin Nussbaum, a partner with Rothgerber, Johnson, & Lyons, LLP, in Colorado Springs, and attorney Thomas Scheffel of Denver are local counsel in the case, Colorado Christian University v. Weaver, et al., which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

On November 5, the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, which oversees the state’s student aid programs, denied Colorado Christian University’s application to participate in state-funded student financial aid programs.  CCHE claimed the university does not qualify for the programs solely because it is “pervasively sectarian” according to state statutes.

Based upon those statutes, the Colorado 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 in determining whether the school should be excluded from state aid programs.

Though CCHE denied participation to Colorado Christian University, it permitted participation by Regis University, a college with a Roman Catholic identity.

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

“It’s dangerous when the government begins choosing between institutions with religious affiliations,” said Greg Baylor, director of CLS’s Center for Law and Religious Freedom.  “Colorado’s laws need to be brought into the 21st century.  The U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly held in recent years that the Constitution does not require government to discriminate against religion.”

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family. 

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Gregory S. Baylor
Gregory S. Baylor
Senior Counsel, Director of the Center for Religious Schools
Gregory S. Baylor serves as senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, where he is the director of the Center for Religious Schools and senior counsel with the Center for Public Policy.