Is this a violation of the separation of church and state? For what kind of aid?

I was surprised to read that MacDaniel College was forced to remove crosses and disaffiliate itself from the Methodist church just because it received state funding, even going so far as to remove a hand giving light from a logo because it implied the existence of God.

ACLU et al. v.d Board of Public Works of Maryland (1972)

That kind of affiliation would seem to apply to the majority of colleges and religious displays are certainly ubiquitous.

1 Answer 1


The first amendment reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Without citing specific law, as long as colleges do not make religious education courses part of their core curriculum, they are not crossing any boundaries.

All colleges offer "majors" (which are areas in which students can take courses of studies that differentiate their education from other students) and many have "core curriculum," which are courses that all students have to take as a requirement for graduation.

Offering a lot of courses in religious studies as majors is something that many private colleges do. I am fairly certain that you can get a (graduate) divinity degree from Harvard, for example. Harvard also offers a bachelor in "religious studies."

Not offering financial aid to those students would actually amount to discrimination against students who elect those particular majors as their courses of studies. Since the financial aid is available to students, electing those majors, at the same levels as the aid available to students electing other majors, it doesn't constitute a preferential treatment. So it cannot be claimed to be a "respecting an establishment of religion." It doesn't give more deference to religious studies than to other types of studies.

But if students electing those majors were to not qualify for the regular financial aid (available to students of all other majors), they would have a case to claim diminished rights, compared to other students. Which would be a form of punishing them for pursuing their religious studies rigorously, or an impingement on the exercise of religion (which violates the prohibition on "prohibiting the free exercise thereof").

But if you want a legal answer, this is controlled by the "Lemon Test" resulting from Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).

  • The "Purpose Prong": The statute must have a secular legislative purpose.
  • The "Effect Prong": The principal or primary effect of the statute must neither advance nor inhibit religion.
  • The "Entanglement Prong": The statute must not result in an "excessive government entanglement" with religion.

The "purpose" and "effect" prongs are satisfied as long as degrees provide only an education and are not restricted only to the followers of the religion. Any area of human knowledge can be studied rigorously. That's the academic standard for what belongs in a college. In other words, if one can study basket weaving rigorously, why not religious texts? One can learn the nature of any subject without being called on to subscribe to the system of believes which one is being taught.

The "entanglement" prong is satisfied by not controlling curriculum and by the education not being (in itself) the way to enter clergy.

  • 1
    Duke Divinity School, for example, is affiliated with the Methodist Church. It's funded with unrestricted funds (Duke Endowment, donations), but also is considered a professional school, like law and medical, so there's little government student funding anyway.
    – user71659
    Commented Mar 22 at 19:03

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