The Court & religion

Divining the 'Davey' case

In 1999, Joshua Davey, a resident of Washington, received an academic scholarship from the state for $1,125. He used it to attend Northwest College in Kirkland, Washington, a college and seminary operated by the Assemblies of God. When he decided to major in theology, however, the state withdrew the award.

Davey sued in federal court, and eventually the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 2-1 ruling, reinstated his scholarship. The U.S. Supreme Court granted review of that decision and will hear the case on December 2. Both the U.S. Catholic bishops and a number of Catholic colleges and universities, as well as other religious groups, have filed amicus briefs arguing that Davey’s claim is just. Groups opposed to Davey, including Americans United for Separation of Church and State, argue that any direct or indirect aid to a seminary is clearly a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition against the establishment of religion. Court watchers think this argument will appeal to three or four justices, including David Souter, a practicing Episcopalian who is one of the Court’s most learned and persuasive advocates of a strict separation of government and religion.

Since its landmark Everson ruling in 1947, which allowed school districts to reimburse parents for the cost of bus transportation to Catholic schools, the Court has struggled to balance the separation of church and state with the First...

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About the Author

Robert F. Drinan, SJ, served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1971 to 1981 as a representative from Massachusetts. He was professor of law at Georgetown University Law Center until his death in 2007.