Locke v. Davey

PETITIONER: Gary Locke, Governor of Washington, et al.
RESPONDENT: Joshua Davey
LOCATION: Elk Grove Unified School District

DOCKET NO.: 02-1315
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 540 US 712 (2004)
GRANTED: May 19, 2003
ARGUED: Dec 02, 2003
DECIDED: Feb 25, 2004

Jay Alan Sekulow - argued the cause for Respondent
Narda Pierce - argued the cause for Petitioners
Theodore B. Olson - argued the cause for Respondent, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae

Facts of the case

The Washington State Promise Scholarship, created by the state legislature in 1999, gives college scholarship money to talented students. However, this money cannot be used to obtain a degree in theology if the program is taught to cause belief. Washington's constitution prohibits funding religious instruction. The 1969 state code applied this ban to college financial aid.

Joshua Davey forfeited his Promise Scholarship money in order to major in pastoral ministries at a private Christian college. Davey filed suit in U.S. district court, claiming the state constitution's ban on funding religious instruction violated his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion (in the U.S. Constitution). The district court rejected Davey's claim. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed, concluding Davey's free exercise rights were violated.


If a state provides college scholarships for secular instruction, does the First Amendment's free exercise clause require a state to fund religious instruction?

Media for Locke v. Davey

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 02, 2003 in Locke v. Davey

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 25, 2004 in Locke v. Davey

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in two cases: the first is 02-1315, Locke versus Davey.

The State of Washington established the Promise Scholarship Program to assist academically gifted students with postsecondary education expenses.

In accordance with the state constitution, Promise Scholars may not use the scholarship in an institution where they are pursuing a degree in devotional theology.

Respondent was awarded a Promise Scholarship and chose to attend Northwest College, a private Christian college in the State.

Although Northwest is an eligible institution, respondent was unable to use his scholarship there because he chose to major in pastoral ministries which is a devotional degree.

He brought an action under Section of 1983 arguing that the denial of his scholarship based on his pursuit of a devotional degree violated, among other things, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause.

The District Court denied him relief but a divided panel of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed.

We granted certiorari and we now reverse.

This case involves the play in the joints between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause.

Under our Establishment Clause precedent there is no doubt that the state could, consistent with the federal constitution, permit Promise Scholars to pursue a degree in devotional theology.

The question before us however, is whether Washington, pursuant to his own constitution, can deny them such fundign without violating the Free Exercise Clause.

The respondent argues that the State’s program is presumptively unconstitutional because the State draws a distinction based on religion.

In the present case however, the State is merely chosen not to fund a distinct category of instruction, training for religious professions and training for secular professions are not fungible.

Training someone to lead a congregation is not essentially a religious endeavor.

In the subject of religion is one which both the United States and State Constitutions embody distinct views in favor of free exercise but opposed to establishment.

They find no counterpart with respect to other callings or profession that a state would deal differently with religious education for the ministry than with education for other callings is a product of these views, not evidence of hostility toward religion.

Such a distinction has long existed in our history.

Far from advancing hostility toward religion, the Promise Scholarship Program goes a long way towards including religion in its benefit.

The program permits students to attend pervasively religious schools so long as they are credited, and under the Promise Scholarship Program’s current guidelines, students are still eligible to take devotional theology courses.

In short, nothing in the history or text of the Washington Constitution nor in the operation of the Promise Scholarship Program suggest animus towards religion.

Given the historic and substantial state interest at issue, we therefore cannot conclude that the denial of funding for vocational religious instruction alone is constitutionally suspected.

Without a presumption of unconstitutionality, Davey’s claim must fail.

The State’s interest in not funding the pursuit of devotional degrees is substantial and the exclusion of such funding places a relatively minor burden on Promise Scholar.

If any room exists between the two religion clauses, it surely must be here.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Justice Scalia has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Thomas has joined; Justice Thomas has filed a dissenting opinion.