The Texas Supreme Court ruled Friday that state higher education officials have no authority over seminaries in Texas, ending several years of litigation over state efforts to restrict the operations of three seminaries in Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.
The high court said the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board violated the constitutional rights of the institutions by preventing them from issuing degrees in theology and calling themselves seminaries.
Writing for the court, Justice Nathan Hecht said state education requirements affecting the institutions “impermissibly intrude” upon religious freedom protected by the U.S. and Texas constitutions.
“Since the government cannot determine what a church should be, it cannot determine the qualifications a cleric should have or whether a particular person has them. Likewise the government cannot set standards for religious education or training,” the court said, citing the establishment clause of the First Amendment, which prohibits government from establishing an official religion. (from here).
Texas law was quite intrusive.
Liberty Legal Institute filed suit on behalf of Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1999, after the higher education board fined the school $173,000 for issuing degrees and calling itself a seminary. Two years earlier, a new state law combating so-called diploma mills had mandated that law schools, medical schools, technical schools, and seminaries meet 21 standards to operate legally.
But applying the same standards to law schools and religious institutions doesn’t work, argued Kelly Shackelford, Liberty Legal Institute’s chief counsel. “For example, the (Texas) requirement that you have to have a master’s degree to teach at a post-secondary school,” he said. “That means Billy Graham couldn’t teach evangelism in a Texas seminary.” (from here)
Many, of course, will look to this victory as proof that our rights are being defended. However, that is hardly the case. The reason the Texas Supreme Court had to step in is that the legislative and the executive branches made it necessary. Texas passed laws that permitted the regulation of seminaries, and the executive branch attempted to enforce those laws.
We cannot rely on the courts to protect our rights. Of the three branches of government, the judicial branch is the weakest. So we must also elected good people serve in the legislative and executive branches of government. We must elect people who understand that our Creator gave each of us inalienable rights. We must elect citizens who understand that protecting our rights necessitates that we limit the power of government.