Loe v. Jett
Minnesota created the Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program nearly 40 years ago to encourage and enable high school students to earn college credit tuition-free. Since 1985, the program has allowed thousands of students to enroll at universities throughout the state and get a head-start in higher education without having to foot the bill. Recently, however, Minnesota amended the PSEO statute to strip religious universities of their eligibility in the program if they require a statement of faith from students. This punishes religious students who want to learn in an environment of faith and the schools they want to attend.
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An education that accommodates faith
In 1985, Minnesota enacted the Post Secondary Enrollment Options Act (PSEO) to allow high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors to take college classes that would count for high school and college credit. The program covers the cost of tuition and required classroom materials like textbooks, allowing high school students to further their academic pursuits without taking on debt. This program has long served high schoolers in the state by promoting rigorous academic pursuits at both secular and religious colleges.
Melinda and Mark Loe and Dawn Erickson are Christian parents in Minnesota who have used PSEO funds in the past to send their older children to schools that uphold their religious values. Two top-notch schools in the state—the University of Northwestern and Crown College—provided their children excellent opportunities to learn in a college environment that also provided a Christian community. Both families have high-school-aged children who also want to use PSEO funding to go to these schools, joining with fellow believers in receiving a quality, Christ-centered education.
Minnesota targets religion in higher education
In 2023, Minnesota governor Tim Walz signed a bill into law that amends the PSEO to exclude religious schools like Crown and Northwestern from participating because they require a statement of faith from all students who attend on-campus. The statements simply ask on-campus students—both undergraduates and PSEO students—if they will embrace the schools’ religious beliefs for the purpose of upholding a strong Christian community on campus. Minnesota’s sudden change to the law will immediately hurt students who want to attend these schools, which have served thousands of Minnesota high school students.
Students should not lose the opportunity to earn college credit tuition-free just because they want to attend schools that share their religious beliefs.
The law protects religious families and schools from Minnesota’s discriminatory ban
Minnesota cannot deny religious parents the learning environments they want for their children because they are religious, nor can they exclude schools from participating in the program because they are religious. As the Supreme Court has consistently and recently affirmed, public benefits that are open to private secular organizations must be open to religious organizations as well. Barring religious universities like Northwestern and Crown from offering religious high school students the great opportunity of free college credit that’s available at secular schools is against the law.
After Becket filed the lawsuit on behalf of religious parents and the two schools, Minnesota promised not to enforce the law while the case is ongoing.
On July 7, 2023, the Minnesota Department of Education filed counterclaims against Northwestern and Crown. The state claimed that schools would be subject to the same constitutional requirements as the government if they accepted PSEO students, which would bar them from promoting their religious values. On November 6, 2023, a federal court heard oral argument in the case, where the schools will ask the court to dismiss the state’s counterclaims.
Importance to Religious Liberty:
Education: Religious schools should be able to participate in publicly available programs without discrimination, and religious school students should be able to participate in these programs on equal footing as students who attend non-religious schools.
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