Democrat-run Minnesota quietly agrees to stop enforcing ‘anti-religious’ law in win for Christian schools

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Minnesota’s Department of Education agreed to halt enforcement of an anti-religious school law as part of a federal court injunction, which religious liberty advocates say is a win for Christian education.

For two Christian colleges in Minnesota who were singled out by the law and sued the state, the Wednesday ruling marks a victory for religious liberty protections.

‘It’s not every day that a state asks a federal court to tie its hands to prevent it from enforcing its own anti-religious law—but Minnesota has done just that,’ said Diana Thomson, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which filed the lawsuit against the Minnesota Department of Education. ‘As this effort to walk back demonstrates, the state didn’t do its homework before it passed this unconstitutional law. The next step is for the court to strike down this ban for good.’ 

The Minnesota legislature amended the eligibility requirements for schools who are part of a state-funded program offering college courses free of charge to high school students. An education finance law signed in May stipulated that participants in Minnesota’s Postsecondary Enrollment Options program (PSEO) ‘must not require a faith statement from a secondary student seeking to enroll in a postsecondary course,’ or base admissions decisions on religious beliefs, race, ethnicity, disability, gender or sexual orientation.

The law would have made it impossible for high school students to attend two Christian colleges in Minnesota — the University of Northwestern-St. Paul and Crown College, both of which joined the legal challenge to the law — once it took effect July 1.

Several parents and the two schools sued the state soon after Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed the legislation. The injunction from U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel allows the colleges to continue offering on-campus courses under the PSEO program.

‘We are glad that Minnesota has agreed not to punish our children and many students like them for wanting to learn at schools that reflect their values,’ parents and plaintiffs Mark and Melinda Loe said. ‘They should be able to pursue the same great opportunities as all other students in the state without politicians in St. Paul getting in the way. We hope the court will eventually strike this law down for good and protect all religious students and the schools they want to attend.’ 

While the plaintiffs celebrated the ruling, the state asserted it would defend the new rule in the courts.

‘The Minnesota Department of Education believes no students should be discriminated against based on their religion. The new law is designed is to defend the rights and individual liberties of Minnesota students, and today’s action will allow for a thorough legal review of the statute as passed during the 2023 legislative session,’ said Kevin Burns, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Education. 

Attorneys for the parents and schools say the state’s agreement to the injunction is a good sign for the future disposition of the case.

‘I’ve been litigating for 14 years, I’ve never seen a government defendant agree to a preliminary injunction,’ Thomson told Fox News Digital. ‘That said, I think the law is pretty egregious.’ 

Recent Supreme Court rulings have held that ‘once a state opens funding to private institutions, the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause forbids excluding participants based on their religion,’ according to the Becket lawsuit.

‘This law pretty blatantly violates that, so I think they may have seen the writing on the wall,’ Thomson added.

Both Crown and Northwestern require statements of faith for on-campus students. Northwesterns’ undergraduate application form asks students if they have entrusted themselves to Jesus Christ, and asks if they agree that ‘the Bible alone is the final authority and standard in all matters of faith and personal conduct.’ 

Under the new law, Northwestern and Crown would be forced to choose between offering courses under the PSEO program or ‘give up their religious identity by abandoning faith-based requirements for on-campus admission,’ according to the lawsuit.

During a May 9 hearing in the Minnesota legislature, amid months of debate over the law, Democratic state Sen. Erin Maye Quade decried what she considered threats from the two Christian schools to take away options from ‘because organizations may not be able to require these faith statements,’ Maye Quade said.

As part of their biblical principles, Crown and Northwestern also state that marriage is between a man and a woman, and ask students to commit to moral behavior, which Maye Quade referenced in her defense of the law. 

‘[L]imiting the pool [of PSEO options] based on their specific faith and the specific tenets of that faith, or gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation — It’s just not OK,’ Maye Quade said.

If the law is enforced and the schools ceased to offer PSEO the effect would likely be fewer options for Minnesota students to take college courses, leading to greater competition at other institutions, Thomson said.

‘We are thankful that Crown can continue welcoming PSEO students who seek to join our Christian community and earn college credit without taking on debt. The law protects our current and future PSEO students’ ability to use PSEO funds at schools that reflect their beliefs and values,’ said Crown College president Andrew Denton.

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