A number of Illinois Bible schools are suing the state’s education regulators in federal court for the right to award degrees without meeting the state’s accreditation standards. They don’t deny that their programs fail to meet the standards for awarding degrees; they just feel that they should be exempt regardless because, they argue, it’s an infringement of their religion to do otherwise.
The Bible colleges — there are about 15 statewide — don’t have full-fledged collegiate curriculums that the IBHE [Illinois Board of Higher Education] requires to issue degrees. But the schools’ leaders say not every student is seeking that; many want the religious education at a quarter or less of the cost of other private and many public institutions.
More than anything, the schools argue, the U.S. Constitution requires the government to butt out.
“We don’t think there can be state regulation of a religious program,” the Rev. Jim Scudder Jr., president of Dayspring Bible College and Seminary in the Chicago suburb of Mundelein, told The Associated Press. “If there is, then the state is deciding ‘which’ religion and breaking the establishment clause of the First Amendment.”
Now, it should be noted that the IBHE isn’t preventing schools from providing a religious education of their choice. Non-accredited schools are allowed to confer diplomas and certificates as they see fit. But they’re not allowed to offer degrees, because, in the state of Illinois, degrees are only offered for programs that meet the state’s educational standards. This is a problem to the Bible schools because
… the schools can’t stay competitive unless they offer “degrees,” he [Scudder] said, a term that has great meaning to prospective students, particularly international students.
And if you’re thinking the best way to “stay competitive” is to be competitive — that is, for these schools to meet the state’s educational standards in order to issue degrees in the state — these Bible colleges are having none of that.
In fact, state sanction itself would turn students away, college leaders say. Many choose the Bible colleges because they’re not government regulated, according to an affidavit by Providence Baptist College Vice President Michael Hall. Following government parameters “would subordinate to the state and the IBHE the church’s responsibility to God in deciding how to properly educate students in religious teaching and in deciding who should do the teaching,” the Elgin school’s administrator wrote.
The state is letting the church teach whatever it likes, through its own programs. It is simply saying: If you want to get credit for being an institution of higher learning, you have to act like it. And Hall is arguing that the church should be able to masquerade as an accredited institution without meeting the standards that go into accreditation simply because it’s religious.
The faith-based schools can’t have it both ways. Hopefully, a judge will agree.
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