Northwestern joins federal lawsuit in pursuit of religious liberty in response to new PSEO eligibility law

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

University of Northwestern – St. Paul (UNW) has joined a group of Minnesota families and Crown College in a federal lawsuit, Loe v. Walz, filed Wednesday that challenges an amendment to a new Minnesota law that strips some faith-based universities of their ability to offer free on-campus college credits to high school students.

Earlier today, Minnesota governor Tim Walz signed a bill into law that amends the state’s Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) eligibility rules to exclude Christian colleges and universities such as Northwestern and Crown due to their requirement of a statement of faith from students who attend on campus. The statements simply ask students to affirm the schools’ religious beliefs for the purpose of upholding their Christian communities. The new eligibility language reads:

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 admissions decision on a student’s race, creed, ethnicity, disability, gender, or sexual orientation or religious beliefs or affiliations.

Northwestern is Minnesota’s largest provider of PSEO, a state program that has been in place since its creation in 1985 to encourage and enable high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit without having to take on debt. As part of PSEO, students are free to use the funds at the school of their choice.

“Throughout its 121-year history, Northwestern has stood firm on the fundamental principles of faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Scriptures, while also recognizing that there is a need for Christian witnesses in today’s version of Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth,” said UNW president, Dr. Corbin Hoornbeek. He continued, “This legislation has given us yet another opportunity to affirm our mission; we remain committed to equipping our students to grow intellectually and spiritually to serve effectively in their professions and give God-honoring leadership in the home, church, community, and world.”

The individual plaintiffs in Loe v. Walz have high-school aged children who are now being barred from the schools of their choice because of Minnesota’s new ban on colleges with statements of faith. Other schools are free to create the campus environment they want to attract students with shared values and interests. Minnesota’s sudden change to the law hurts students, such as those in this lawsuit, who want to attend schools that uphold their religious values–schools that have attracted thousands of Minnesota high school students over the years.

With the help of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, Northwestern, Crown, and the individual families have asked a federal court to strike down the new discriminatory law. It is UNW’s belief that Minnesota cannot deny students the learning environments they prefer simply because they are people of faith, nor can they exclude schools from participating in the program due to their Christian beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court has both consistently and recently affirmed that public benefits that are open to private secular organizations must also be open to those of a religious nature.