The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release
Contact: (202) 466-3234,Joe Conn,Rob Boston,Sandhya Bathija

Tax Funding for Baptist University Violates Kentucky Constitution, Says Americans United

Church-State Watchdog Group Urges State Supreme Court to Block Legislature's $10 Million Grant to University of the Cumberlands


The Supreme Court of Kentucky should strike down a $10 million state
appropriation for a university affiliated with the Southern Baptist
Convention, says Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

Americans United has filed a friend-of-the-court brief
along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky challenging
tax funding of the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Ky.

"The Kentucky Constitution is clear on this matter," said the Rev.
Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Tax money may
not be used to subsidize religious schools. We expect the court to
uphold that important principle."

Special Judge Roger Crittenden of Franklin County ruled against the
appropriation in March of 2008. Crittenden declared that the aid for
construction of a pharmacy school building and an additional $1 million
for scholarships was "a direct payment to a non-public religious school
for educational purposes," adding this type of state assistance "is not
permitted by the constitution of Kentucky."

Section 5 of the state constitution bars residents from being
compelled to support religion and bans the state from showing
preference to any denomination over others. Section 189 bans tax aid to
"any church, sectarian or denominational school."

The Kentucky Fairness Alliance, a statewide gay-rights group,
challenged the legislature's special appropriation of funds for the
university after the school expelled a gay student in 2006. The
student, Jason Johnson, had disclosed his sexual orientation on a
social networking Web site.

In their amicus brief, Americans United and the ACLU urge the
Supreme Court of Kentucky to uphold the lower court ruling and strike
down the aid.

The brief, filed March 31, traces the development of church-state
separation in the United States and examines how that principle is
protected in the Kentucky Constitution.

"This Commonwealth, its people, and their respective religious
denominations and houses of worship have been well served by the
Kentucky Constitution's rigorous protections for freedom of
conscience," asserts the brief. "Those essential safeguards should not
now be jettisoned, as the challenged appropriations here contemplate.

"No matter how laudatory in the short run the legislature's
objectives might be," the brief continues, "they cannot justify the
degrading effect upon both faith and civil society that results from
having religious institutions compete in the political arena for public
dollars and public favor."

Dr. Paul D. Simmons, a Baptist minister and president of the Americans United Board of Trustees, is among the plaintiffs in the University of the Cumberlands v. Pennybacker, Beshear, and McGaha
lawsuit. Other plaintiffs include the Jefferson County Teachers
Association and Christina Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky
Fairness Alliance.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.