CHICAGO — The Illinois Bible Colleges Association has filed a lawsuit against the Board of Higher Education (IBHE) in an effort to obtain the right to issue degrees to students.
“The IBHE prevents Illinois Bible colleges from operating and granting degrees unless their teaching and curriculum is approved by the state,” reads a website that provides information about the case. “We believe religious communities should determine the standards and criteria necessary to complete a degree for a ministry vocation.”
The association, representing approximately 15 Bible colleges in the state, states that the board’s prohibition on the issuance of degrees by Bible colleges violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of religion and also the separation of church and state—that the state should stay out of the business of the church.
“We don’t think there can be state regulation of a religious program,” 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.”
The association also states that the prohibition violates the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Currently, Bible colleges can offer certificates or diplomas, but cannot issue degrees because they do are not accredited, state-certified schools. College officials desire to be able to issue degrees to students since a degree carries more weight in the ministry and workforce.
“It’s sort of a governmental ‘ghettoization’ of faith-based education by saying, ‘You can’t tell your students what you think the value of their degree is because you haven’t gotten our accreditation,'” attorney John Mauck told reporters. Mauck is with the law firm Mauck & Baker, LLC. The Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is also a part of the case.
The organizations note that similar battles have been fought successfully in other states.
“In 1999, HEB Ministries, Inc., a church in Fort Worth, TX that operated the Tyndale Theological Seminary & Bible Institute, filed a lawsuit against the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for restricting the college from calling itself a ‘seminary’ or using words like ‘degree,’ ‘bachelor,’ ‘master,’ ‘doctor,’ or their equivalents, without State approval,” they explain on illinoisbiblecollegecase.com.
“HEB Ministries and Tyndale Theological Seminary & Bible Institute won the case in 2007 allowing post-secondary religious schools in Texas to now operate and grant degrees according to the tenets of their faith,” the site continues.
Last year, Illinois Sen. Bill Haine (D) introduced a bill that would have amended the state’s Private College Act to allow Bible colleges to issue degrees as long as “the institution’s handbook for students include[d] the following statement: ‘This religious degree is not approved by the Illinois Board of Higher Education.'” The bill passed the Senate unanimously but stalled in the House.