Christian colleges in Minnesota will be allowed to keep offering college credits to high school students — for now. On Wednesday, the Minnesota District Court issued an injunction prohibiting the enforcement of an amendment that greenlights discrimination against religious students.
Under Minnesota’s 1985 Post Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program, capable students can earn free college credits at local institutions of higher education while they are still in high school. Thousands of students have benefited from the program, and other states around the country have since adopted it.
An amendment passed during the 2023 legislative session, however, removed religious colleges from the program by prohibiting these postsecondary schools from requiring a statement of faith from students. “An eligible institution must not require a faith statement from a secondary student seeking to enroll in a postsecondary course under this section during the application process or base any part of the admission decision on a student’s … religious beliefs or affiliations,” the amendment states.
The day the bill was signed in May, Becket Law, on behalf of two Christian homeschool families and two Christian colleges that had been part of the PSEO program, filed a federal suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota to make sure PSEO funds are available to Christian high schoolers for their preferred college, just as they are for everybody else. The complaint, which names the Minnesota governor, commissioner of education, and Department of Education as defendants, argued that “the amendment burdens Plaintiffs’ sincere religious beliefs by forcing them to choose between their religious convictions and a state benefit,” which would be illegal under the Minnesota Constitution.
The complaint cited a Minnesota House of Representatives floor debate, which the plaintiffs say showed the bill was intended to “single out these religious institutions” and “suppress the schools’ religious exercise of providing education within a community of faith.”
“It makes sense that religious schools would want to note the religious background of the applicants, and I think they have the right to do that,” said student Noelle Dolan, a Christian school and PSEO program alumna.
On June 14, the district court issued a preliminary injunction in Loe v. Walz, prohibiting the enforcement of the “eligible institutions” amendment, which would have gone into effect on July 1, until the case and any following appeals are concluded.
The Minnesota Department of Education, however, stands by the amendment. “The Minnesota Department of Education believes no students should be discriminated against based on their religion,” a spokesman told The Federalist in a statement. “The new law is designed is [sic] to defend the rights and individual liberties of Minnesota students, and today’s action will allow for a thorough legal review of the statute as passed during the 2023 legislative session.”
Plaintiffs Mark and Melinda Loe expressed joy over the decision and say they “hope the court will eventually strike this law down for good.”
“We are glad that Minnesota has agreed not to punish our children and many students like them for wanting to learn at schools that reflect their values,” they said. “They should be able to pursue the same great opportunities as all other students in the state without politicians in St. Paul getting in the way.”