Florida Cop-out: Lawsuit Settlement Allows Christian College Students To Get State Grants

The real question here is – why did Florida settle this case?

We often say that the Religious Right and its allies don’t give up easily, now here’s some proof. Less than one month after the overwhelming defeat of Florida’s Amendment 8, which would have allowed taxpayer money to flow to religious institutions, students attending a fundamentalist Christian college have been made eligible to participate in a state-funded grant program.  

The News Service of Florida reported that Florida Christian College (FCC) in Kissimmee settled a federal lawsuit recently, opening the door for students who attend the school to get Florida Resident Access Grants.

The state allocated $79 million for the program for the current fiscal year, and now four FCC students will be able to receive the state grants. Other students attending the school will be eligible starting with the 2013-2014 school year, the news service said.

FCC, which is affiliated with the ultra-fundamentalist Churches of Christ denomination, says on its website that “a Bible emphasis” is required “of all who earn a degree” from the school.

FCC is intended primarily to train clergy and other church employees. Of the 14 bachelor programs listed on the school's website, five have "ministry" in the title and one is called "preaching." The school also offers two Bible degrees: one studying the Bible as a science, the other as an art.

In the 2012/2013 College Catalogue, FCC President William K. Behrman boasts, “Christian values characterize Florida Christian College. Administrators, faculty and staff must espouse and exhibit Christian beliefs. The Bible forms the centerpiece of the curriculum. Family Worship Hour attendance and Discipleship Group participation, as well as Christian service, are required of all students.”

With help from the Alliance Defending Freedom (a Religious Right legal outfit founded by radio and TV preachers), FCC filed suit against the state challenging grant restrictions that limited participation to students at schools with a secular purpose.

It seems pretty clear that FCC has a non-secular purpose, and the regulations seem appropriate from a constitutional standpoint.

Florida’s restrictions were rightly designed to prevent the taxpayers from paying for the indoctrination of students who attend schools that are pervasively religious. It would seem very hard to argue that a school mandating Bible study isn’t sectarian, and FCC does not even deny it is “non-secular.”

The real question here is – why did Florida settle this case?

Sure, litigation is expensive, but it appears that the state’s grant policy could have stood up to constitutional scrutiny. Given the facts, the settlement suggests the state simply lacked the will to fight back.

Florida’s recent history shows a major effort is being put forth by lawmakers and others who want to use taxpayer money to fund religion, and despite the significant blow dealt to those attempts when Amendment 8 failed, the effort is far from over.