Editor’s note: This post was written by WLRN reporter Tasnim Shamma.
Earlier this month, Florida Christian College in Kissimmee filed a lawsuit against the state for not being allowed to enroll in the Florida Resident Access Grant (FRAG) program because of a disagreement with the Florida Department of Education about whether the college has a “secular purpose.”
About half of the 380 undergraduate students at the college are Florida residents who could be eligible for the $2,000 annual grants at private colleges.
Officials at the college assert that it does teach secular subjects. So even if it offers a “biblically based education”, it does prepare students for secular jobs. The federal Constitution allows government benefit programs to include religious organizations as long as the overall purpose of the program is secular.
The lawyer representing the school says singling out Florida Christian College for its application to join the state program is discriminatory and violates the First Amendment.
There are at least nine other Christian colleges (Palm Beach Atlantic University, Clearwater Christian College, Southeastern University, Warner University, Ave Maria University, St. Leo University, Bethune-Cookman University, Edward Waters College, St. Thomas University) in the state that do qualify for FRAG funding, but they enrolled in the program before the state changed the rules in 1989 to exclude religious institutions.
Attorneys have been working with the Florida Department of Education since mid-2010, but filed the federal lawsuit, Florida Christian College v. Shanahan, with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida on March 8, when the department refused to change its position.