In a surprise move, a Democratic attorney general in a Democratic-led state agreed to refrain from an overt attack against religious educational institutions -- at least while litigation in the matter remains pending.
Democratic Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison reportedly agreed to stipulations in a court-ordered preliminary injunction to not block certain religious schools from participating in a state-paid tuition program for high school students, the Daily Caller reported.
At issue here are recent changes made to a decades-old program within the Minnesota Department of Education that allowed 10th-12th grade high school students to enroll tuition-free in any of the state's colleges and universities to earn college credits, with the costs for those courses paid for by the state.
That program is known as Postsecondary Enrollment Options, or PSEO, but it was substantially limited just a month ago when Democratic Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz signed into law the state's $72 billion budget.
Included in that budget was a provision that amended the PSEO program to no longer allow religious colleges and universities to participate in the program if they required students to sign a statement of faith -- as had been previously allowed for decades.
That led to the immediate filing of a lawsuit by Becket Law, a firm that focuses on religious liberty, on behalf of Christian parents, Mark and Melinda Loe, and the two schools they hoped to send their high school-aged children to through the PSEO program, Crown College and the University of Northwestern-St. Paul.
On Wednesday, a U.S. District Court in Minnesota issued a preliminary injunction that all parties involved agreed to -- including Attorney General Ellison -- that would block the state from enforcing the amended changes to the PSEO program and revert back to the previous status quo, at least until the case is fully concluded.
In a press release following that ruling, Becket senior counsel Diana Thomson said in a statement, "It’s not every day that a state asks a federal court to tie its hands to prevent it from enforcing its own anti-religious law -- but Minnesota has done just that."
"As this effort to walk back demonstrates, the state didn’t do its homework before it passed this unconstitutional law. The next step is for the court to strike down this ban for good," she added.
The parents at the center of the case, Mark and Melinda Loe, said in a statement, "We are glad that Minnesota has agreed not to punish our children and many students like them for wanting to learn at schools that reflect their values."
"They should be able to pursue the same great opportunities as all other students in the state without politicians in St. Paul getting in the way," they added. "We hope the court will eventually strike this law down for good and protect all religious students and the schools they want to attend."
Also issuing statements in response to the ruling were the presidents of the two schools that are involved in the lawsuit, Andrew Denton of Crown College and Corbin Hoornbeek of the University of Northwestern-St. Paul.
"We are thankful that Crown can continue welcoming PSEO students who seek to join our Christian community and earn college credit without taking on debt. The law protects our current and future PSEO students’ ability to use PSEO funds at schools that reflect their beliefs and values," Denton said. "The state should never have singled us out for our faith. We remain steadfast in our commitment to upholding our mission of providing PSEO students a boldly Christian, biblically based education, and we are hopeful the court will permanently protect our faith-based culture and the students we serve."
Hoornbeek said, "The entire Northwestern community is grateful to continue to foster a Christ-centered community on campus that serves all our students, including our PSEO students. The state cannot single out schools such as Northwestern due to our campus culture and the integration of faith and learning. We hope the court will permanently recognize that and continue to permit us to help on-campus PSEO students flourish in their faith and education."