Texas Court: State Can't Regulate Seminaries

The Texas Supreme Court has capped eight years of litigation in ruling 8-0 in favor of three seminaries that the state's higher education code places unconstitutional restrictions on them.

The Texas Education Code required religious and other private degree-granting institutions to be state certified or accredited before granting post-high school degrees. The law, amended in 1998, also required state certification before a religious school could call itself a seminary.

The state's Supreme Court's ruling in favor of Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Southern Bible Institute in Dallas, and Hispanic Bible Institute in San Antonio notes that the state's requirement "impermissibly intrudes upon religious freedom protected by the United States and Texas Constitutions."

The court's August 31 ruling overturned two lower court decisions.

In 1999, the state of Texas fined Tyndale $173,000 for violating the Texas Education Code by calling itself a seminary though not certified by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, and for granting post-secondary degrees despite its unaccredited status.

HEB Ministries, which runs Tyndale's Texas campus, in turn sued the state on religious freedom grounds, joined by the two other schools.

Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, an accredited institution owned by the Southern Baptist Convention, filed an amicus brief in the case on behalf of the three religious schools.

The court noted the intent of the Texas Education Code is to prevent deception of the public by "degree mills," which it defines as schools granting "fraudulent or substandard" degrees. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board argued it was neutral toward all post-secondary schools, religious or not, by applying the same standards to all.

The court wrote:

"It is one thing for the State to require that English majors in a baccalaureate program take science or math courses, that they be taught by professors with master's degrees from accredited institutions, and that professors have the freedom to teach that the works sometimes attributed to Shakespeare were really written by Edward de Vere, Christopher Marlowe, Francis Bacon, or Queen Elizabeth I. It is quite another for the State to require that a religious institution's baccalaureate-level education in religion include psychology courses, or that preaching or evangelism or missions be taught only by professors with master's degrees instead of practitioners from the field, or that a school's faculty have the freedom to teach that the Bible was not divinely inspired, contrary to the school's tenets of faith."

Kelly Shackelford of Plano, Texas, one of the attorneys who argued the case, said in a statement: "This decision is a huge victory for all seminaries not only in Texas but nationwide. The state has no authority or competence to control the training of pastors and ministers, and the Supreme Court rightly held so."

From an article by Jerry B. Pierce, the managing editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN.



California 'Gay Marriage' Bill Goes to Governor

For the second time in two years, the California legislature has sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill legalizing "gay marriage."

Schwarzenegger is expected to veto it, just like he did to a similar bill in 2005.

The California Senate passed the bill, AB 43, 22-15 along a strict party-line vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it. The assembly passed the same bill in June, 42-34.

The senate's action came a week after a judge in Iowa issued a decision ordering the state to legalize "gay marriage," although the ruling is being appealed. With state supreme courts in Connecticut and Maryland expected to hand down "gay marriage" decisions any day, the issue is threatening to become a topic of the 2008 presidential race, similar to 2004, when eleven marriage amendments passed on Election Day.

The California bill seeks to overturn Proposition 22, a law approved by voters in 2000 that protects the natural definition of marriage. It passed by a margin of 61-39 percent.

In February, Schwarzenegger, a Republican, referenced Proposition 22 in telling a high school student at a YMCA event that he would once again veto the bill.

"I wouldn't sign it because the people of California have voted on that issue," he said.

Voters, he said, "should make the decision. But it should not be me or the legislature."

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