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Examining the Minnesota PSEO Lawsuit: Interactions between Religious Freedom and Non-Discrimination

Updated: Aug 22, 2023

Introduction


On May 24th, 2023, University of Northwestern and Crown College filed a joint lawsuit challenging recent amendments to Subdivision 3(b) of Minnesota’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) law. The new language states that, “An eligible institution must not require a faith statement from a secondary student… during the application process or base any part of the admission decision on a student's race, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender, or sexual orientation or religious beliefs or affiliations.”


What’s going on here? This blog post breaks it down for you.


Perspective of the University of Northwestern and Crown College


University of Northwestern – St. Paul (UNW) and Crown College contend that the updated PSEO law infringes upon their religious liberties and limits their ability to cultivate a faith-based environment for students. They argue that the law change prevents religious families from leveraging PSEO funds to attend their preferred religious institution.


Crown College stated, “For over 100 years, Crown College has remained a boldly Christian college dedicated to our mission to provide a biblically based education... Even in the face of legislation designed to hinder students who want the education we provide; we remain steadfast in our commitment to protecting our mission and our communities' deeply held religious beliefs.”


Dr. Corbin Hoornbeek, UNW President, shared, “Throughout its 121-year history, Northwestern has stood firm on the fundamental principles of faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Scriptures... This legislation has given us yet another opportunity to affirm our mission; we remain committed to equipping our students to grow intellectually and spiritually to serve effectively in their professions and give God-honoring leadership in the home, church, community, and world.”


The Advocates of the Legislative Change


Supporters of the recent change in Minnesota's PSEO law argue that it fosters inclusivity. They emphasize that the state is not restricting religious colleges from practicing their beliefs, but rather prohibiting all colleges from using public funds to exclude PSEO students on the basis of their religion or identity.


In an official statement, The MN Secular Government Caucus says, “The state is not restricting these schools from practicing their religious beliefs in any manner. It is merely prohibiting them from using state PSEO dollars to exclude high school students based on a student's race, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender, or sexual orientation or religious beliefs or affiliations. Most of the religiously affiliated colleges that participate in the PSEO program have not excluded PSEO students, and they are not involved in this lawsuit. They recognize that the public funding requires them to treat students equally.”


Conclusion


The public statements from both sides reveal divergent views on the impact of this new state law on religious institutions. Press statements from both colleges state that, “this law strips some faith-based universities of their ability to offer on-campus college credits to high school students.” In response, the Secular Government Caucus seems to be arguing that UNW and Crown College can offer PSEO to Christian students: they just can’t discriminate against non-Christian PSEO students during PSEO admissions. To protect their faith-based learning environment, UNW and Crown have been reluctant to admit non-Christian PSEO students, and believe that current statutes protect this aspect of their PSEO programs.


PSEO has been a successful and vibrant aspect of Minnesota’s education system. The outcome of the Minnesota PSEO lawsuit challenging the amendment to the PSEO statutes will have significant effects on the application and future of PSEO. The lawsuit itself underscores the tension between private and public institutions and also the interplay of religious freedom in non-discrimination policies, not just in Minnesota but across the nation. As these issues play out in the courtroom, People for PSEO will be paying attention to how the interests of students and access to education is framed and debated. These issues are integral to our society and the future of education.


Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is based on the public details of the lawsuit and aims to present an unbiased overview of the arguments on both sides. It is important to consult legal professionals and official sources for the most accurate and up-to-date information regarding the PSEO lawsuit.


Written by Thea Pappas and Zeke Jackson


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