FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - State funding for a new pharmacy school at
a private, Baptist university violates the state constitution, a Franklin County judge ruled Thursday.
Kentucky lawmakers authorized the spending at the University of the Cumberlands shortly after it ousted a student in April 2006 for being gay. Plaintiffs had argued, among other things, that the student's dismissal from the southeastern Kentucky university was evidence that the school would not guarantee equal protection.
Franklin Circuit Court Special Judge Roger Crittenden, however,
ruled the court did not have to decide on that issue. Instead, Crittenden ruled that funding for the school's pharmacy building violated portions of the Kentucky constitution that guarantee religious freedom and that public money for education should not be spent on any "church, sectarian or denominational school."
Crittenden ruled it was unconstitutional for the General Assembly to appropriate $10 million in state funding for a new pharmacy school at University of the Cumberlands, and $2 million for a permanent scholarship fund there.
"This type of direct expenditure is not permitted by the constitution of Kentucky," Crittenden wrote in his ruling.
He also ruled that funding a permanent scholarship program as part of the state's two-year spending plan was unconstitutional.
A call to the Williamsburg school's media relations office for comment wasn't immediately returned.
The Center for Law & Religious Freedom in Springfield, Va., had
argued on behalf of the school that the legislature acted lawfully because it sought to address the state's shortage of pharmacists.
Kentucky Fairness Alliance executive director Christina Gilgor said Crittenden's ruling was a victory against state-subsidized discrimination.
"Judge Crittenden's ruling simply reaffirms that Kentucky taxpayers aren't expected to fund private, religious institutions. It's a victory against state-subsidized discrimination," Gilgor said.
Sen. Vernie McGaha, who intervened in the lawsuit supporting the
university, said he disagreed with Crittenden's decision because he thought the state should be able to give money to a private institution if it can offer services in exchange.
"I think it's a good business decision for the state and there's clearly a need for the services," McGaha, R-Russell Springs, said of funding a pharmacy building at the school.
The university ousted student Jason Johnson in April 2006 after he posted comments about his sexual orientation and dating life on the Internet. Plaintiffs argued the school discriminated against Johnson's free speech rights, while the university maintained it was following its conduct policy.
Crittenden said he did not need to make a ruling on that point, but wrote, "this is exactly the 'entanglement' between government interests and religious institutions that the Kentucky Constitution prohibits."
Senate President David Williams said the ruling was incorrect in part because the private university should not be considered a "religious sect, society or denomination." And, the school is not a church, Williams said.
"I think the judge is wrong," said Williams, R-Burkesville.
Sen. Ernesto Scorsone, a Lexington Democrat who is openly gay,
called the ruling a "victory" for Kentucky citizens and the state constitution.
"Our forefathers, using astute wisdom, mandated the separation of church and state. That separation protects both religion and the state," Scorsone said in written statement. "Public dollars should go to public institutions. To do so otherwise is to shortchange the taxpayers."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)