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Court denies funding for Baptist school

FRANKFORT, Ky. (BP)–The Kentucky Supreme Court has ruled that the legislature violated the state constitution when it appropriated $10 million in taxpayer funds to build a pharmacy school at a university affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention.

The court also said a provision that allocated an additional $1 million for scholarships to the pharmacy school at the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky., was unconstitutional.

Justice Lisabeth Abramson upheld a 2008 ruling by a circuit court judge that said the appropriations by the legislature in 2006 violated state laws that ban public financing of “any church, sectarian or denominational school.”

In a statement released after the April 22 ruling, the president’s office at the University of the Cumberlands said the school will not proceed with establishing a pharmacy school.

“However, other pharmacy schools are being created and others expanded since the critical need was brought to the attention of the public as a result of this case,” the school said. “Thus, in our view, we have accomplished our purpose which was to meet a critical need for pharmacists in the Appalachian area and beyond.”

The statement noted that the University of Kentucky in Lexington, which for years had the only pharmacy school in the state, has expanded its program. Sullivan College has opened a pharmacy school in Louisville and Midway College has announced plans to start a pharmacy program in Paintsville, in eastern Kentucky.

“If Kentucky needs to expand the opportunities for pharmacy school education within the commonwealth, the Kentucky General Assembly may most certainly address that pressing public need,” Abramson wrote, “but not by appropriating public funds to an educational institution that is religiously affiliated.”

Critics have pointed to the way the money was appropriated. Reports indicate that the last-minute addition of the construction and scholarship money to the 2006-08 budget was coordinated behind closed doors by Senate President David Williams, whose district includes the university.

The Louisville Courier-Journal said the plaintiffs in the case included the Fairness Alliance, a homosexual activist organization; the Jefferson County Teachers Association in Louisville; and two citizens, Albert Pennybacker and Paul Simmons, a Baptist minister and ethics professor at the University of Louisville.

The Fairness Alliance harshly criticized the University of the Cumberlands’ decision in 2006 to expel a student who used his MySpace page to publicize his homosexual relationship with a student at another school, contrary to the university’s guidelines for student conduct.
Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

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