Should a State Agency be Required to Accommodate Religion?

Here are the basic facts that lead me to ask the title question:
[li]David Haws attended one year at West Virginia University (maintaining a 4.0 average) with a WV PROMISE scholarship.[/li][li]Mr. Haws then, following the norms of his membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, served two years on a church mission doing good works.[/li][li]The state PROMISE Scholarship Board twice denied Mr. Haws’ request for a deferment or leave of absence and revoked his scholarship.[/li][li]According to its deferral policy, “[t]he PROMISE Board does not wish to grant personal leaves of absence for any reason.” They may, at their discretion, make exceptions for Medical Leave, Family Medical Leave or Bereavement Leave, Military Leave, and “Other Unforeseen Leave”.[/li][/ul]

Mr. Haws’ request doesn’t seem to fall under any of the recognized exceptions. (It was not unforeseen.) The Board’s position is they want to avoid “the potential for abuse by students who would use this type of leave for personal vacations.” I guess a student could claim his Church of the Holy Hangover requires him to spend a year in Puerto Vallarta though that’s clearly not the case here. If the Board established an exception for Mormon missionaries, would they be in an awkward position of defining what is a legitimate church activity? Would doing so be unfair to students of other faiths?

ISTM the Board probably could define a policy that accommodated Mr. Haws without accommodating any one religion. I doubt the existing policy was intended to deny any student the convictions of their faith. However, should the Board be required to look for such an accommodation? And how would you protect against abuse?

PS. The news today is that WVU will re-admit Mr. Haws and defer his tuition until his lawsuit against the PROMISE Scholarship Board is resolved.

If the restrictions on the scholarship, at the time Mr. Haws accepted it, listed the same limited reasons for a deferral, then no, Mr. Haws shouldn’t get one. He knew (or should have known) that his foreseeable 2 year absence didn’t qualify. This isn’t about Mr. Haw’s religion, it’s about his not reading or following the restrictions places on his scholarship. I assume he signed a contract, and he doesn’t want to abide by his side of it.

It seems to me he just assumed he’d be allowed to take a two year leave, perhaps under the personal leave condition of the scholarship, unaware or ignoring that it would be allowed only at the board’s discretion.

His suit says he was forced to choose between his religion and his education. He has no right to his scholarship.

Moreover, while I might be wrong, I don’t believe you’re required to take your church mission in a given year. He could have taken it before school or afterward.

I know people who did their mission before going to college.

Both sides are wrong here. The school is being a bit rigid, but the student agreed to terms he knew full well he couldn’t meet. Assuming there is good reason for the requirement, he could have refused the scholarship and let someone else have it. Or the church could give him one - they’re not exactly poor, and I assume they give scholarships to places other than BYUs.

There are some subtle differences here between what the state must, should, or could do. I agree the state PROMISE Scholarship Board* is being a bit rigid but I understand their reluctance to be too generous with a leave of absence policy. I also agree that Mr. Haws is out of luck according to the existing policy.

The lawsuit claims that the existing policy violates Mr. Haws’ civil liberties. I would disregard the whole matter except I was surprised to see the ACLU take it up on behalf of the student. Even when the ACLU represents despicable people (not the case here) I’ve agreed with their logic in defence of liberty. I don’t see the logic here. Does anyone else?

Where do you come down on what the state must, should, or could do?

*The school, a state-run university, is actually helping Mr. Haws by deferring tuition until his lawsuit is settled.

In this specific case:

The school should not be required to accomodate Haws. His rights aren’t being denied-- he’s still free to serve his mission and get his education. His scholarship is an award, not something he is owed by right.

The school could change their policy, however, I understand the simplicity of the rules as they are currently stated, and I see no reason to make clauses specifically for religious obligations. Haws’ mission could fall under personal leave. Moreover, the board could accomodate him, but they have (repeatedly) chosen not to do so.

Should they? I don’t think so. The school was up front with their rules. Haws has planned his mission for 10 years. Either he incorrectly assumed his scholarship could be deferred, or he arrogantly assumed his religious obligations would be accomodated. I don’t see why any onus of accomodation is on the school when Haws failed to disclose his intent to leave on a mission when he accepted the scholarship.

AFAIK Mormon men must be at least 19 to go on a mission and women at least 21 (& missions are optional for women). I don’t think men must go on mission as soon at they turn 19.

Do many Mormon men take their mission in the middle of their college careers? I’d think it would be hard just for practical reasons to have a two year gap between, say, Calc II and Calc III for example, scholarship considerations aside.

The minimum age for males to serve a mission is 19. It is also optional. Nobody is forced (by the Church) to serve. A bit of infor here, if you’re interested.

Someone in my class in college took his after his freshman year, and never came back to the best of my knowledge.

In my neighborhood the pressure was pretty intense for boys to go on their mission. The one guy who kept putting it off finally left the church. I think his disenchantment caused him to postpone his mission, not vice versa.

I’m no expert, but the state’s obligations are not limited to not establishing religion; the state is not to abridge the free exercise of relgion.

By withdrawing his scholarship if he goes on mission for a year, the state is penalising Mr Haws.

It is not enough, I think, to say that they would also withdraw his scholarship if he went away for some non-religious reason.

Is there a public interest which requires the state to insist that nobody take any leave? Clearly not, since leave is permitted in some circumstances. In that case, is there a public interest which requires the state to deny leave in these particular circumstances? If there is not, is it an impermissible abridgement of the free exercise of Mr Haws’ religion?

is not supposed to

The rules of the scholarship state clearly that it is to be used for eight consecutive semesters. The exceptions for leave of absence are for unforeseen circumstances, medical or family or some such. There is no actual requirement that he do the mission at the time that he did, and he had a perfect reason not to do so, in the scholarship rules. Nothing prevented him from either postponing the mission until after college, or postponing college until after the mission. The scholarship rules don’t say that it must be used immediately after high school. He could have done his mission and then applied.

The state has an interest in knowing when the money will be used, as they have to have it available. In all practicality they can’t just allow students to come and go as they please, expecting the scholarship money to be available for them whenever they decide to use it.

I think he might have a better case if the church required the mission to be done at a certain time, but even in that case he’d be accepting the scholarship knowing he couldn’t or wouldn’t comply with the rules of its use.

My take is that he knew the rules going in, failed to comply with them, and now has no right to expect anything.

How is Mr Hawes desire to take a year off, to go an his mission, different from another student who decides to take a year off to go work on a cruise ship? The school should not be deciding the worthiness of what a student does while taking time off, and the school isn’t. The school has made reasonable allowances for unforeseen events.

The school COULD open a whole can of worms by starting to make value judgements on why students take time off.
The school SHOULD write a clear set of restrictions on how and when the money will be awarded.
The school SHOULD disperse the money in a manner consistant with their restrictions.

The vast majority of my Mormon friends and fellow missionaries did this, without problems.

I think that this should be denied to him, as he could have waited until after school to go. He would have been a little older than most of the missionaries, but I served with people in their early 20s and also Japanese natives who where in their late 20s.

What do you all make of this:

Feds back Mormon student

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a “friend of the court” brief supporting Mr. Haws’ suit against the WV PROMISE Board.* (I will admit my bias here in that I’m having a hard time not automatically pointing to this as another example of the religious right run amok in our current administration.) What is the DOJ and the ACLU seeing in this case that I, and most posters here, are not? It’s all very disconcerting to me.

*Please note that the defendant in this case is the WV PROMISE Board, not the university.

Going off that article, the gov’t is being rather disingenuous in the amicus brief.

Which doesn’t appear to be true, the board doesn’t allow foreseeable leave of any type. Also I note on the Board website that the award can be delayed for two years, so had the student simply begun his Mission immedietly after HighSchool, he still could’ve taken advantage of the scholarship. (also, though I didn’t hunt through the website to find out, I imagine that you don’t necessarily have to apply for the award directly out of High School, so he could’ve delayed that way as well).

I agree with the majority here. A scholarship is a gift or a privilege, not a right. Mr. Haws knew the conditions of the scholarship before he accepted it.

What too often happens in cases like this is that when an award becomes too much of a pain in the rear end to administer, it is simply done away with. Then everyone has no access to it equally…

Oh who gives a shit. Just because “but it’s my reliiiiiiigion” is the trump card does not give his excuse any more credence than “but I have to go watch for UFO’s.” It’s great that this particular belief calls him to help people, but he knew the terms going into it and he’d better suck it up and be treated like anyone else. That he should be given an unfair advantage because of the luck of his beliefs is absurd.