Walz, MDE sued over bill barring colleges from requiring ‘faith statements’ as part of college credit program

Two religious colleges have sued the Walz administration because of language in the education budget that prohibits schools from requiring “faith statements” from students applying for a program that lets them earn college credits while in high school.

Two families with children eligible for the Postsecondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) program claim they won’t be able to use funds from that program at Crown College in St. Bonifacius or the University of Northwestern-St. Paul because those schools require all students on campus “share their Christian beliefs.”

In the federal lawsuit filed Wednesday against Gov. Tim Walz, Minnesota Education Commissioner Willie Jett and the state Department of Education, the plaintiffs state that religious institutions have participated in the PSEO program since its inception in 1985 and that changing the eligibility requirements now would violate the schools’ right to practice their religion.

The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to strike down the amendment to the PSEO Act on grounds that it violates the First and Fourteenth amendments of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the Minnesota Constitution.

They point to recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have backed the use of public funds at religious schools and claim that under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, once a state opens public funding to private entities, it cannot exclude parties based on their religious beliefs.

The colleges also allege that their exclusion from the PSEO program would harm their future enrollment prospects.

According to MDE data, Northwestern logged the most PSEO credit hours of any institution in the state in 2020, with 24,947 credits — more than twice the enrollment of the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus. For its part, Crown College logged 4,393 PSEO credits in 2020.

Northwestern maintains that 40% of high school students participating in its dual-credit program eventually choose to enroll at the school for undergraduate studies; that conversion rate is 29% for Crown College.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has reached out to Gov. Walz’s office and MDE for comment but has yet to hear back.

You can read the full lawsuit below: