T

he Columbia Union College case is one of CIR’s greatest victories for freedom of religion. CUC, a small four-year college with about 600 students, had been denied a public grant by the state of Maryland because its Seventh-day Adventist composition made it “pervasively sectarian.” Or, in plain English, CUC was too religious for the tastes of state bureaucrats.

“THE FERMENT ON THE COURT. . . COINCIDES WITH A POLITICAL FERMENT OVER THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN RELIGION AND GOVERNMENT, A COMBINATION THAT IS LIKELY TO KEEP THIS CASE IN A BRIGHT SPOTLIGHT UNTIL THE JUSTICES DECIDE IT.”

NEW YORK TIMES

While other private institutions, including numerous Catholic colleges, were granted about $1,070 annually for each Maryland student enrolled, Columbia Union was denied grants at four consecutive hearings.

CIR’s Supreme Court victory in Rosenberger v. Virginia had previously established that religious student organizations cannot be denied funding merely because they are religious. CIR’s aim in Columbia Union was to extend this holding to religious higher educational institutions.
In 1997 CIR helped Columbia Union take the case to a federal district court with direct action against Edward Oliver, a state official. The decisive moment in the case came on June 26, 2001 when the 4th Circuit Court upheld an earlier ruling that CUC was not pervasively sectarian and therefore eligible for state funds. Furthermore, the court said that being “prevasively sectarian” was not a sufficient reason for denying state funding to a college.

 

Case Status: Victory

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