Kentucky Supreme Court: State Cannot Fund Religious University

By Jason Beahm on April 29, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

What happens when a state legislature allocates $11 million to a religious institution?  The Kentucky Supreme Court answered that question Thursday, April 22, when they struck down the allocation for violating the principle of separation of church and state in the Kentucky state Constitution. 

The question came about after David Williams, a Republican and president of the Kentucky Senate, supported and passed a bill designed to provide $10 million to build a pharmacy school and $1 million in scholarships.   

The money was allocated to The University of the Cumberlands, a Baptist university that bans homosexuality and extramarital sex. The University mission is to "advance the Kingdom of God in the area of Christian education." 

As Deborah Yetter of the Kentucky Courier-Journal reports, Louisville lawyer David Tachau, represented the plaintiffs pro-bono and considered the decision an important re-affirmation of the separation of church and state. "This constitutional provision is crystal clear. It has been upheld in a series of cases from 1917 through 1983," said Tachau. "The only surprise was that there was ever a need to bring this lawsuit in the first place."

The court, in a 5-2 decision, declared the allocation unconstitutional, as "state sponsorship and support of religious schools is outside of the pale and crosses the line...."

After being defeated in court twice, The University of the Cumberlands will drop its pharmacy school plans, said its president, James Taylor.

The opinion, which was entertaining as far such things go, even concluded with some old- school poetry:

The poet, George Greenleaf Whittier, caught, the sentiment of many in his time, as well as today: "The Lord is God! He needeth not the poor device of man." It can readily be added, "Nor the help of the state." To say that government or courts affect the whereabouts of the Almighty, such as "putting God in schools" or "taking God out of schools," is not only silly, but borders on sacrilege. Such a notion banners the lack of faith, rather than the essence of faith.

This wholesome and blessed balance between church and state can only be maintained through our courts. These grand constitutional commandments speak not only to the genius and wisdom of our forefathers, but also to their astounding reverence for the soul.

Our humble decision here today is one small ripple enveloped in the marching billows of the ages.

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