Witters v. State Com'n for the Blind, 49673-1

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Washington
Writing for the CourtANDERSEN; CALLOW; UTTER; DOLLIVER; DURHAM
Citation771 P.2d 1119,112 Wn.2d 363
Parties, 53 Ed. Law Rep. 278 Larry WITTERS, Appellant, v. STATE of Washington COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND, Respondent.
Docket NumberNo. 49673-1,49673-1
Decision Date20 April 1989

Page 363

112 Wn.2d 363
771 P.2d 1119, 53 Ed. Law Rep. 278
Larry WITTERS, Appellant,
v.
STATE of Washington COMMISSION FOR THE BLIND, Respondent.
No. 49673-1.
Supreme Court of Washington,
En Banc.
April 20, 1989.

Concerned Women for America Educ. and Legal Defense Foundation,

Page 364

Michael P. Farris, Great Falls, Va., for appellant.

Kenneth O. Eikenberry, Atty. Gen., David R. Minikel, Asst. Atty. Gen., D.S.H.S., Olympia, for respondent.

Judith Endejan, Seattle, amicus curiae for American Civil Liberties Union.

Page 365

ANDERSEN, Justice.

FACTS OF CASE

In this case we consider for the second time whether error was committed when a visually handicapped student was denied state financial assistance to enable him to attend a private bible college with the goal of becoming a pastor, missionary or church youth director. We hold that when a person "is getting a religious education " (italics ours), to use the words of his attorney, that person comes squarely within the express prohibition contained in the Constitution of the State of Washington that "[n]o public money ... shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious ... instruction ". (Italics ours.) Const. art. [771 P.2d 1120] 1, § 11 (part). Accordingly, the Washington State Commission for the Blind and the Superior Court for Spokane County did not err when they denied state financial assistance for his education. Phrasing it a bit differently, our state constitution prohibits the taxpayers from being put in the position of paying for the religious instruction of aspirants to the clergy with whose religious views they may disagree.

Appellant Larry Witters, who will be referred to herein as the "applicant", applied for vocational rehabilitation funds from the Washington State Commission for the Blind (Commission) in 1979. 1 He planned to use the funds to pursue a course of study that would prepare him for a career as a pastor, missionary or youth director. At the time of his request, the applicant was enrolled at the Inland Empire School of the Bible in Spokane pursuing a 3-year Bible diploma. Later, he switched to a 4-year program that would earn him a biblical studies degree from Inland Empire School of the Bible and a bachelor of arts degree from Whitworth College. His curriculum included Old and New Testament studies, ethics, speech and church administration.

Page 366

The applicant qualifies as a legally blind person under the physical and medical eligibility requirements specified in RCW 74.16. 2 Funding for the Commission's assistance program is provided by both federal (80 percent) and state (20 percent) moneys. The Commission denied the applicant's request on the basis of its policy statement, which states: "Private institutions or out-of-state institutions: The Washington State Constitution forbids the use of public funds to assist an individual in the pursuit of a career or degree in theology or related areas." After an unsuccessful internal administrative review, the applicant appealed the action to the Superior Court for Spokane County under the state administrative procedure act. 3 On May 26, 1982, following a hearing, the trial court entered findings of fact and conclusions of law affirming the Commission's order, also on state constitutional grounds.

In 1984, this court affirmed the decision of the Commission and the Superior Court holding that "the provision of state aid to a person studying to be a pastor, missionary, or church youth director violates the establishment clause of the first amendment to the United States Constitution." Witters v. Commission for the Blind, 102 Wash.2d 624, 626, 689 P.2d 53 (1984), rev'd sub nom. Witters v. Washington Dep't of Servs. for the Blind, 474 U.S. 481, 106 S.Ct. 748, 88 L.Ed.2d 846, reh'g denied, 475 U.S. 1091, 106 S.Ct. 1485, 89 L.Ed.2d 737 (1986). This court did not reach the state constitutional grounds on which both the Commission and the Superior Court had relied. Instead, it based its decision on the United States Supreme Court's 3-part test for determining the constitutionality of state aid under the establishment clause of the first amendment to the United States Constitution:

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion ...; finally, the

Page 367

statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."

Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602, 612-13, 91 S.Ct. 2105, 2111, 29 L.Ed.2d 745 (1971), quoted in Witters, 102 Wash.2d at 628, 689 P.2d 53. After concluding that the first criterion was met, this court held that the second criterion, primary effect, was not. 4 The court declined to address entanglement,[771 P.2d 1121] the third Lemon criterion. 5 Finally, this court rejected the applicant's free exercise clause argument and declined to address his equal protection clause argument. 6

In 1986, the United States Supreme Court reversed this court's 1984 decision. Witters v. Washington Dep't of Servs. for the Blind, 474 U.S. 481, 106 S.Ct. 748, 88 L.Ed.2d 846, reh'g denied, 475 U.S. 1091, 106 S.Ct. 1485, 89 L.Ed.2d 737 (1986). It rejected this court's analysis of the second Lemon criterion and remanded the case to us for further proceedings.

Pursuant to that remand, we now address three principal issues.

ISSUES

ISSUE ONE. Does the Constitution of the State of Washington prohibit the Commission from granting vocational rehabilitation funds to a visually handicapped applicant to use at a religious institution for a course of study designed to prepare him for a career as a pastor, missionary or youth director?

ISSUE TWO. If the Constitution of the State of Washington is a bar to the applicant's request for educational assistance, is such denial of funds a violation of the free exercise clause of the First Amendment?

ISSUE THREE. If the Constitution of the State of Washington is a bar to the applicant's request, is the denial of

Page 368

funds to the applicant a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment equal protection clause?
DECISION

ISSUE ONE.

CONCLUSION. The Commission and the Superior Court did not err in denying state financial assistance for the applicant to use for religious instruction; the Constitution of the State of Washington, article 1, section 11, prohibits this.

As the United States Supreme Court observed in its opinion in this case, "[t]he Establishment Clause of the First Amendment has consistently presented this Court with difficult questions of interpretation and application." 7 Then, after concluding that there was no violation of that clause of the federal constitution, and that the case should be remanded, the United States Supreme Court also held that "[o]n remand, the state court is of course free to consider the applicability of the 'far stricter' dictates of the Washington State Constitution, see Witters v. Commission for the Blind, 102 Wash.2d, at 626, 689 P.2d, at 55." 8

Article 1, section 11 of the Constitution of the State of Washington provides in pertinent part:

No public money or property shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment ...

(Italics ours.) Here, the applicant is asking the State to pay for a religious course of study at a religious school, with a religious career as his goal. This falls precisely within the clear language of the state constitutional prohibition against applying public moneys to any religious instruction. Indeed, as counsel for the applicant summarized at oral argument before this court:

Page 369

We would concede that Larry Witters is getting a religious education.

(Italics ours.) Our state constitution prohibits the use of public moneys to pay for such religious instruction.

This court has twice construed the term "religious instruction".

In State ex rel. Dearle v. Frazier, 102 Wash. 369, 173 P. 35 (1918), the court struck down a school board resolution giving high school credits for Bible study done outside of school, even though the course [771 P.2d 1122] of study covered only the "historical, biographical, narrative and literary features of the Bible". 9

On the other hand, the court upheld the teaching of "English 390: The Bible as Literature" at the University of Washington in Calvary Bible Presbyterian Church v. Board of Regents, 72 Wash.2d 912, 436 P.2d 189 (1967), cert. denied, 393 U.S. 960, 89 S.Ct. 389, 21 L.Ed.2d 372 (1968). In Calvary, the court interpreted "religious instruction" as used in article 1, section 11 to mean "instruction that is devotional in nature and designed to induce faith and belief in the student." 10 The court went on to say:

There can be no doubt that our constitutional bars are absolute against religious instruction and indoctrination in specific religious beliefs or dogma; but they do not proscribe open, free, critical, and scholarly examination of the literature, experiences, and knowledge of mankind.

Calvary, at 919, 436 P.2d 189.

In this case, Inland Empire School of the Bible is a Christian college. The applicant's course of study is designed to prepare him for a career promoting Christianity. His Bible study and church courses necessarily provide indoctrination in the specific beliefs of Christianity. Thus, for the Commission to provide vocational assistance funds to the applicant as he requests would violate article 1,

Page 370

section 11 of the Constitution of the State of Washington because public money would be applied to religious instruction.

The applicant urges that we examine the vocational rehabilitation program as a whole and not focus on his individual participation in the program. His argument ignores the "sweeping and comprehensive" 11 language of Const. art. 1, § 11, which prohibits not only the appropriation of public money for religious instruction, but also the application of public funds to religious instruction. Herein lies...

To continue reading

Request your trial
29 practice notes
  • Chung v. Wash. Interscholastic Activities Ass'n, CASE NO. C19-5730-RSM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
    • May 10, 2021
    ...Wash.2d 203, 226, 840 P.2d 174 (1992) (second alteration in original) (quoting Witters v. Comm'n for the Blind , 112 Wash.2d 363, 371, 771 P.2d 1119 (1989) ). "This does not mean any slight burden is invalid, however." City of Woodinville , 166 Wash. 2d at 642–43, 211 P.3d 406. Rather, "a b......
  • Society of Separationists, Inc. v. Whitehead, 920233
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • December 10, 1993
    ...9, § 4, or involved the interpretation of the phrase "religious instruction." See Witters v. State Comm'n for the Blind, 112 Wash.2d 363, 771 P.2d 1119, 1121-22 (en banc), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 850, 110 S.Ct. 147, 107 L.Ed.2d 106 (1989) (interpreting "religious instruction"); State Higher ......
  • Bush v. Holmes, No. 1D02-3160
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • November 12, 2004
    ...instruction, but also the application of public funds to religious instruction." Witters v. State Comm'n for the Blind, 112 Wash.2d 363, 771 P.2d 1119, 1122 (1989)(original emphasis omitted). The Washington court considered the language of the state constitution substantially more "sweeping......
  • Open Door Baptist Church v. Clark County, 67075-7.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 16, 2000
    ...of his religion", it unduly burdens the free exercise 995 P.2d 39 of religion. Witters v. Comm'n for the Blind, 112 Wash.2d 363, 371, 771 P.2d 1119, cert. denied, 493 U.S. 850, 110 S.Ct. 147, 107 L.Ed.2d 106 (1989); [City of] Sumner [v. First Baptist Church], 97 Wash.2d [1] at 5, 639 P.2d 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
29 cases
  • Chung v. Wash. Interscholastic Activities Ass'n, CASE NO. C19-5730-RSM
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Washington)
    • May 10, 2021
    ...Wash.2d 203, 226, 840 P.2d 174 (1992) (second alteration in original) (quoting Witters v. Comm'n for the Blind , 112 Wash.2d 363, 371, 771 P.2d 1119 (1989) ). "This does not mean any slight burden is invalid, however." City of Woodinville , 166 Wash. 2d at 642–43, 211 P.3d 406. Rather, "a b......
  • Society of Separationists, Inc. v. Whitehead, 920233
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Utah
    • December 10, 1993
    ...9, § 4, or involved the interpretation of the phrase "religious instruction." See Witters v. State Comm'n for the Blind, 112 Wash.2d 363, 771 P.2d 1119, 1121-22 (en banc), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 850, 110 S.Ct. 147, 107 L.Ed.2d 106 (1989) (interpreting "religious instruction"); State Higher ......
  • Bush v. Holmes, No. 1D02-3160
    • United States
    • Court of Appeal of Florida (US)
    • November 12, 2004
    ...instruction, but also the application of public funds to religious instruction." Witters v. State Comm'n for the Blind, 112 Wash.2d 363, 771 P.2d 1119, 1122 (1989)(original emphasis omitted). The Washington court considered the language of the state constitution substantially more "sweeping......
  • Open Door Baptist Church v. Clark County, 67075-7.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Washington
    • March 16, 2000
    ...of his religion", it unduly burdens the free exercise 995 P.2d 39 of religion. Witters v. Comm'n for the Blind, 112 Wash.2d 363, 371, 771 P.2d 1119, cert. denied, 493 U.S. 850, 110 S.Ct. 147, 107 L.Ed.2d 106 (1989); [City of] Sumner [v. First Baptist Church], 97 Wash.2d [1] at 5, 639 P.2d 1......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT