Washington, D.C.-The Institute for Justice this week dismissed its lawsuit against Attorney General Christine Gregoire and four state universities challenging discrimination against student teachers choosing religious schools, having accomplished as much as it could with its litigation.
The lawsuit, filed last September on behalf of Carolyn Harrison, a student at the University of Washington, Tacoma, and Donnell Rene Penhallurick, a student at Eastern Washington University, challenged the universities’ practice of forbidding teacher degree candidates from student-teaching in religious schools. The policies were triggered by two Washington state attorney general opinions in 1995 and 2000, which concluded that allowing public university students to student-teach in religious schools would violate the state constitution’s religious establishment provision, known as the Blaine Amendment.
The State promptly changed its policy to allow Harrison to intern at Bellarmine Preparatory School, a Jesuit school in Tacoma, to gain experience for an administrative credential. However, Eastern Washington University claimed that it discriminated not just against religious schools, but all private schools, and the Thurston County Superior Court denied an injunction to Penhallurick that would have allowed her to student-teach at a Seventh-day Adventist school in Moses Lake.
Meanwhile, the State no longer justifies its policy under the Blaine Amendment. Instead, it contends that its universities either deny student-teaching placements in all private schools, secular or religious, or allow them in both.
“The State’s practices and policies seem to depend entirely on the subjective decisions of university officials,” said Clint Bolick, Institute for Justice vice president and national director of state chapters. “To ferret out discrimination against religious students and schools at this point would create a huge factual dispute. Since the State has abandoned a discriminatory interpretation of the Blaine Amendment, a huge legal battle is unwarranted.”
Bolick added that he is pleased that the State changed its policy to allow Carolyn Harrison to intern at the religious school at which she teaches. “We erased part of the legacy of religious discrimination from the State’s education policy,” said Bolick. He added that the Institute would closely monitor State policies to ensure that the Blaine Amendment is not used to discriminate against religious options. If it is, more lawsuits will follow, Bolick promised.
The Institute for Justice is a libertarian public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C., that has defended school choice programs against legal challenges under the First Amendment and state Blaine Amendments.