Two Christian colleges in Minnesota are back in court seeking the right to participate in a dual enrollment program as attorneys for families wishing to apply college credits their children received in high school at the institutions insist that the state is "waging a senseless campaign" against faith-based colleges.
The University of Northwestern-St. Paul and Crown College were back in court Monday arguing against a provision of the state's Postsecondary Enrollment Options program preventing students from receiving no-cost college credits for completing college-level coursework in high school at faith-based institutions of higher education.
Students participating in the PSEO program can earn high school and college credit simultaneously, with the college credit usually going toward any postsecondary school of their choice. As a result of the changes to the PSEO program, students hoping to receive PSEO credit at a faith-based college find themselves no longer able to do so.
The state had previously agreed not to enforce revisions to the dual enrollment program preventing faith-based schools from participating amid ongoing litigation. However, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty announced last week that the Minnesota Department of Education filed counterclaims contending that because the schools receive state funds, they are now state actors.
Therefore, the counterclaims allege the statements of faith they require students to abide by are unconstitutional.
"For the first time, the state is claiming that the schools' acceptance of PSEO students means that they are subject to the same constitutional requirements as the government, and that their Christian campus communities are unconstitutional — an argument that would extend not just to Crown and Northwestern, but to every private school that accepts students who receive government aid," the Becket Fund statement reads.
"With the help of Becket, the schools asked the court today to dismiss the state's retaliatory counterclaims."
Earlier this year, a group of Christian parents wishing to have their children receive PSEO credit at the universities by completing postsecondary coursework at no cost filed a lawsuit against Minnesota's Democrat Gov. Tim Walz and Minnesota Commissioner of Education Willie Jett in response to newly implemented revisions to the PSEO Act.
The University of Northwestern-St. Paul and Crown College are also plaintiffs in the case, which is proceeding in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
The Democrat-controlled Minnesota Legislature amended the PSEO 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."
Diana Thomson, senior counsel at Becket, claimed in a statement that "Minnesota is waging a senseless campaign against students and the faith-based schools that wish to serve them."
"Private schools don't become public schools just because they accept students who receive state funds, and to argue that they do is a transparent attempt to control Minnesotans' religious beliefs and practices," Thompson argues.
University of Northwestern - St. Paul President Corbin Hoornbeek said his college "strives to offer a Christ-centered education to every student who joins our campus community to equip them to serve effectively in their professions and give leadership in the home, community, church, and world."
"Our university wants to ensure that this essential mission is available to both undergraduates and PSEO students alike," Hoornbeek said. "[W]e are praying that the court protects our ability to serve all those who want to take advantage of what our campus community has to offer into the future."
Crown College President Andrew Denton expressed hope that "the court will continue to allow every student in Minnesota to use PSEO funds at the school that best meets their needs and matches their values."
"Crown College has offered generations of students opportunities to excel intellectually and spiritually through our biblically integrated education," Denton said. "The PSEO program has long allowed us to extend this opportunity to young students ready to begin their on-campus experience."
The lawsuit maintains that the amendments to the PSEO program violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Minnesota Constitution. The plaintiffs are asking for the court to declare the revisions to the PSEO program unconstitutional and provide them with damages and attorney's fees.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com