Columbia Union College v. Clarke, 988 F. Supp. 897 (D. Md. 1997); Columbia Union College v. Oliver, 254 F.3d 496 (4th Cir. 2001)

This case involved state funding for religious institutions, and the use of academic freedom as a standard to determine whether an institution is so pervasively sectarian as to be ineligible for state funding. In 1990, Columbia Union College applied to the State of Maryland for funding under the state’s Joseph A. Sellinger Program. However, Columbia Union is controlled by the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the Sellinger program funds may not be used for "sectarian purposes" such as religious worship or religious instruction. In a 1996 ruling, the federal district court determined that Columbia Union was too "pervasively sectarian" to be eligible for Sellinger Program funds. The College appealed this decision, however, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ordered the lower court to reconsider. On reconsideration, the lower court reversed its earlier ruling, finding that while CUC is "controlled by the Seventh Day Adventist Church," the "primary goal and function of CUC is to provide a secular education even though it has a definite and strong, secondary, goal to teach with a ‘Christian vision.’" In reaching this conclusion, the court misapplied AAUP’s policy on religious institutions’ limitations on academic freedom. The court rightly looked to AAUP's 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure, but incorrectly concluded that the 1940 Statement allowed essentially any restrictions on academic freedom as long as they were communicated to faculty members at the time of hiring. The State of Maryland appealed the lower court’s decision to the Fourth Circuit. While the AAUP has no position on the eligibility of religious institutions for state funding, the legal office submitted an amicus brief (.pdf) correcting the court’s interpretation of AAUP policy and reiterating AAUP’s policy that simple notice of religious limitations does not absolve an institution of its obligation to afford academic freedom.

Status: In June 2001 the Fourth Circuit issued a decision, upholding the district court's conclusion that Columbia Union College was entitled to funding because it was not "pervasively sectarian." The opinion did not repeat, address, or rely upon the district court's erroneous citation of AAUP policy.