Texas Supreme Court Will Hear Critical Religion-State Case

Six years ago, the Tyndale Theological Seminary was reportedly fined $173,000 for issuing theological degrees and operating the seminary without an official state license. In response, the Hispanic Bible Institute of San Antonio and the Southern Bible in Dallas also joined the seminary in launching an appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Last year December, the Supreme Court decided to listen to the case scheduled for January 2005.

As of now, the three seminaries hope for a favorable court ruling by summer of this year. Liberty Legal Institute chief counsel Kelly Shacklefield has represented the Tyndale Seminary during the 1998 incident that led to this now hotly contested case. In Texas state law, seminaries cannot issue degrees without the state’s approval of their curriculum, professors and board.

According the Shacklefield, the legal implications that will be determined by the Supreme Court this year will not just drastically affect state and seminary relations not in Texas, but also in the nation. Shacklefield said to AgapePress that state government officials nationwide will start thinking, “We can actually control all the seminaries and all the churches, and essentially, we will control all of the future religious leaders because we control the training of pastors and future religious leaders through the seminaries.”

The basis of Shacklefield’s arguments is that that the government continues to have a direct say over who can train future pastors. He commented to the AgapePress, “the state tells you who your faculty can be at the seminary, and one of the requirements is that your faculty has to at least have a master's degree. That would mean, for instance, that Billy Graham – who does not have an earned master's degree – is prohibited from teaching evangelism in any seminary in the State of Texas.”

Nonetheless, Shacklefield expressed optimism and told AgapePress that he hopes to see a Supreme Court ruling by this summer. He notes that in the past the Texas Supreme Court has shown sensitivity towards issue involving religious freedom.