At issue: State regulation of a religious program

Tuesday, January 20, 2015
 | 
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow.com)

A group of Christian colleges and Bible schools has been pushed too far and wants the government of Illinois to butt out of its business. So they have gone to court to try to see that happens.

A coalition of Bible colleges has joined in filing a federal lawsuit against the Illinois Board of Higher Education, a nine-member board that – among other things – grants authority for the state's public and private colleges and universities to grant degrees. Jim Scudder, Jr. is president of Dayspring Bible College & Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, one of the schools filing affidavits in the lawsuit. He tells OneNewsNow that for many years the school issued degrees to its graduates.

Scudder

"And then in '93 we got a letter [from the IBHE] that stated we could not use the word 'degree,'" he explains. "And so we [switched to] 'bachelor diploma.'

"From then until 2013 that's how we operated," he continues. "And in 2013 we got more letters that said we're out of compliance and we need to make changes – [letters] threatening the attorney general of Illinois action against us."

The state instructed the schools not to use the term "bachelor" in awarding diplomas unless their teaching and curriculum are approved by the state – and as far as the schools were concerned, that warranted filing the lawsuit last week. Scudder believes religious degrees can legitimately use that term, "masters," and the like.

But what if the schools refused to comply with the IBHE's directive? "There would be a price that we would pay that would probably be monetary," Scudder responds. "Fines that would be, I would think, in the hundreds of thousands of dollars – and also they would probably threaten to close the doors as well."

In which case, says the Dayspring president, students would be robbed of the schools' quality Christian education and forced to transfer to an accredited school.

Scudder adds the quandary is why the government is intruding in religion when the Constitution prohibits it. That question will be answered in federal court. Chicago attorney John Mauck is representing Dayspring, two other schools, a student, the Illinois Bible Schools Association, and a Christian civil rights group.

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