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No state funds at Baptist univ., judge rules

WILLIAMSBURG, Ky. (BP)–A Baptist university in southeastern Kentucky should not receive $12 million in state funds to launch a new pharmacy school, a circuit court judge in that state has ruled.

In April 2006, Kentucky legislators approved a $12 million grant to the University of the Cumberlands, a private school in Williamsburg, Ky., affiliated with the Kentucky Baptist Convention. A homosexual rights group and several state legislators immediately sued the governor of Kentucky, complaining that giving public funds to a private institution violated the state constitution.

The grant gained special attention because it coincided with Cumberland’s expelling a student who used his myspace.com website to publicize his homosexual relationship with a student at another school — contrary to the university’s guidelines for student conduct.

The state funds included $10 million to finance construction of a building and $2 million to start a scholarship program.

In handing down a summary judgment in the case, Special Judge Roger Crittenden noted, “There is no question that the appropriation of $10 million tax dollars to the university to construct a pharmacy building is a direct payment to a non-public religious school for educational purposes. This type of direct expenditure is not permitted by the constitution of Kentucky.”

Crittenden said the $2 million designated for scholarships also violated the state constitution because it used a budget bill to enact a permanent program. His ruling did not address charges made by critics of the university that the student’s expulsion unconstitutionally discriminated against him because of his “sexual orientation.”

James Taylor, president of the University of the Cumberlands, said the school would review the ruling and weigh its options.

“Over the next several days we will be considering the options which are available to the University regarding the court’s decision and the viability of our plans for a pharmacy program,” Taylor said in a statement released by the university’s media relations office. “Our board of trustees will need an opportunity to study this opinion and its consequences for the university.”

Ernie Fletcher, the governor named in the lawsuit, had asked a judge to determine the constitutionality of using taxpayer money for private institutions of higher education. His successor, Steven Beshear, said he agreed with the ruling and his office would not appeal the decision.

State Sen. Vernie McGaha, one of 13 lawmakers who intervened in the case on behalf of the university, said he was unsure whether that group would appeal the decision.

“Where we go from here will be a collective decision,” McGaha told Louisville’s Courier-Journal newspaper. “I don’t agree with his ruling.”
Compiled by Mark Kelly, an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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