Kentucky Supreme Court to consider whether State Programs can Help Religious Institutions of Higher Learning Build Pharmacy Schools

The Supreme Court in Kentucky will consider a case, University of Cumberlands v. Pennybacker, where the constitutionality of state programs to help religious institutions of higher learning is at stake. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty filed an amicus brief because this case might have major repercussions for all religious universities seeking state assistance.

In March 2008, a lower court applied Section 189 of the Kentucky Constitution to strike down a grant which would help the University of the Cumberlands, a Christian institution, build a new pharmacy school. According to the lower court, because the grant went to help a program at a religious school, it was an appropriation in aid of a "sectarian" school in violation of Section 189.

"In Kentucky, supporters of Section 189 likened ‘sectarian’ schools to a snake which sought to ‘fasten its everlasting fangs on the throat of popular and state education,’" said Lori Windham " The only slithering here is trying to slip by Section 189 as something other than a ‘Blaine Amendment’ – one of about 35 state constitutional provisions passed in the late 19th and early 20th century out of hostility to immigrants (especially Catholics) and their ‘sectarian’ schools," said Lori Windham.

The Becket Fund’s brief argued that if Kentucky’s Blaine Amendment were applied today according to its original nativist purpose, it would violate the federal constitution.

"Section 189 wasn’t written to keep faith out of education; it was written to keep education funds away from the ‘wrong’ faith," explains Lori Windham, Legal Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. "It is a clear violation of Supreme Court precedent to enforce a discriminatory law like this one against religious schools today."

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a nonpartisan, interfaith, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions, and the equal participation of religious people in public life and benefits. For years, The Becket Fund has been actively involved in litigation challenging state "Blaine Amendments" as vestiges of nativist bigotry that violate the federal constitution. The Becket Fund also maintains a website dedicated exclusively to the history and current effects of Blaine Amendments .

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