|Update as of January 18, 2017|
Illinois Bible Colleges Head to Court of Appeals (Illinois Review, December 5, 2016)
On March 28, 2016, almost one year after the parties finished briefing on the State’s motion to dismiss, District Court Judge Sharon Coleman dismissed the Bible colleges’ case. Although the lower court took a long time to issue a ruling, the Court of Appeals promptly scheduled oral argument and has allotted each side twenty-five minutes to present arguments.
The Bible colleges are encouraged that the Court of Appeals has decided to act quickly and that it has granted almost three times as much time for oral argument than the average case. These signs indicate that the Court of Appeals appreciates the significance of the Bible colleges’ constitutional arguments and the impact that a ruling will have on religious liberty in post-secondary education.
Christian colleges don't have implicit constitutional right to award degrees free of state regulation, judge says (Cook County Record, March 29, 2016)
The First Amendment does not shield Christian colleges from state authority to regulate degree-awarding higher educational institutions, a federal judge has ruled.
On March 28, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman ruled in Chicago federal court to dismiss a legal challenge brought in 2015 by the Illinois Bible Colleges Association, several affiliated institutions and a student at one of the colleges, asserting the Illinois Board of Higher Education should not have authority under the U.S. Constitution to set standards by which religious colleges can be allowed to confer degrees to graduates.
“Plaintiffs here are essentially seeking to teach any subject in any manner and to describe student achievement in whatever way they choose, entirely free from government oversight, under the auspices of religious freedom,” Coleman wrote.
“They should seek the exemption through the legislative process rather than by injunction,” she said, adding, “Such a result simply is not compelled by the First Amendment.”
The decision delivered a blow to the efforts by the association and its member institutions to secure a declaration Christian colleges and similar religious educational institutions should be free, under the U.S. Constitution, to award degrees to students without first meeting curricular and other requirements demanded by the IBHE and similar state regulators of colleges and universities.
Update as of March 26, 2015:
Should Unaccredited Bible Colleges Be Allowed to Grant Degrees? (Christianity Today)
“College students strive for one goal: a degree. Dayspring Bible College and Seminary wants to give them one after they complete its programs. But the suburban Chicago school only issues certificates and diplomas. The Illinois Board of Higher Education forbids Dayspring from offering a ‘degree’ because it doesn’t meet accreditation standards.
“Earlier this year, Dayspring and a handful of other Illinois-based Bible colleges filed a federal lawsuit accusing the state board of overstepping the First Amendment and infringing on their rights to free religious exercise and free speech.”
Illinois Bible colleges sue for right to issue degrees (Chicago Tribune)
“Bible colleges in Illinois have filed a federal lawsuit against state education regulators, seeking the unencumbered right to award degrees to students who complete their programs.”
(Please read the article Musings about Accreditation by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary.)
Governments around the world, including the Philippines, have generally been strict over the use of the words “college, university, seminary, credit, and degree.” If schools want to use these words as part of their name or want to grant degrees to their graduates, then they must seek accreditation from government authorities.
In the Philippine context, that accrediting authority is the CHED, which was established in May 18, 1994 through Republic Act 7722 or the “Higher Education Act of 1994.” The CHED’s policies on voluntary accreditation in aid of quality and excellence in higher education are outlined in Commission Order 31, s. 1995. The CHED can close down any school that violates its regulations.
Conflicting views on the necessity or desirability of accreditation of Bible schools
Some Bible colleges in the US see nothing wrong with obtaining accreditation from the State. For example, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas is a fully accredited private, non-profit institution of higher learning.
On the other hand, some Bible schools in the US believe that State regulation of Bible schools is un-Biblical. These schools also believe that the establishment of a Bible school is an exercise of the Constitutionally-protected freedom of religion. In brief, “freedom of religion” implies unfettered freedom to worship, to print instructional materials, and to train teachers and organize schools in which to teach things that include religion. “Freedom of religion” means that any church or denomination can organize and maintain a Bible school without having to seek authority from the State.
Benefits from and criticism of accreditation, Philippine context
In the Philippines, those who desire CHED recognition of Bible schools say that recognition is beneficial and desirable for several reasons:
(1) Recognition makes it easier for foreign students to come into the country and study in Bible school.
(2) Bible school graduates who want to pursue higher education or other college courses can do so because the subjects they have taken or the degree they have obtained will be credited in secular colleges.
(3) Bible school graduates can find employment in secular jobs because the degree they received will be accepted by companies.
(4) Quality standards of teaching and facilities will be guaranteed.
The main criticism against these so-called benefits of CHED recognition is that Bible schools exist primarily, if not exclusively, to equip and train pastors, missionaries, evangelists, church workers, and lay leaders for the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Under what circumstances should a Bible school seek accreditation? Does the government have authority to control the training of pastors and ministers?
My main point is this: CHED recognition becomes necessary if (1) the Bible school uses the word “college” or “university“ as part of its name or (2) grants degrees like Bachelor of Theology, Bachelor of Christian Education, etc.
Thus, if the Bible school uses the words “institute” or “seminary,” then CHED recognition is not necessary. If the Bible school does not grant degrees but gives to its graduates, for example, a certificate of merit for completing a training program for pastors or missionaries, then again, CHED recognition is not necessary. The guiding principle is that “the State has no authority or competence to control the training of pastors and ministers.” (More on this below)
Can the Philippine government compel Bible schools to seek accreditation with the CHED?
Several pastors who have church-based schools using the ACE or School of Tomorrow curriculum have approached me for legal advice. They told me that the Regional Offices of the Department of Education have been pressuring them to obtain government recognition through the submission of some 17 to 25 documentary requirements. My answer has always been for these pastors to network with other leaders of church-based schools that are experiencing the same kind of problem and to ask for legal help from the SOT itself.
The question is, can the Philippine government through the CHED force Bible schools to submit to regulation or accreditation?
In the United States, “22 states regulate religious schools to varying degrees, while 28 states have no regulations.” Some of the private entities that accredit Bible schools in the US are the Association of Advanced Rabbinical and Talmudic Schools (AARTS); Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada (ATS); Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), and Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS).
Non-accreditation can lead to penalties or even the closure of the school. For example, in 1998 the state of Texas fined Tyndale Theological Seminary and Bible Institute (a non-accredited school in Fort Worth) $173,000 for issuing degrees as without a license and for its unauthorized use of the term “seminary”. Tyndale is an evangelical and dispensational Bible school.
The facts of the HEB Ministries/Tyndale case (from the text of the Texas State Supreme Court August 2007 decision)
Petitioner HEB Ministries, Inc., a church in Fort Worth operates a school, Tyndale Theological Seminary and Bible Institute, which was founded in the early 1990s to offer a biblical education in preparation for ministry in churches and missions. By 1999, its campus consisted of a library, four or five classrooms, administrative offices, a small bookstore, and a computer department, and its enrollment was 300-350 students, with over three-fourths in correspondence courses.In conferring these awards, Tyndale did not use the word “degree.” Nevertheless, the Commissioner of Higher Education fined Tyndale $173,000.00 for for using the word "seminary" and issuing theological degrees without receiving government approval.
Tyndale’s 1997-1998 course catalog stated: At Tyndale our focus is upon you — the professional minister or motivated layman who wishes to make a difference for Christ in our world. You are the most important part of the TYNDALE equation. Our job is to meet your needs — to meet you half-way with quality Bible courses that help you in your ministry endeavor.
The catalog also contained a lengthy “Doctrinal Statement” setting out Tyndale’s positions on issues of faith. The catalog listed 172 courses, 162 of which were in religious subjects. Of the other ten, three were in general education — “Basic English Grammar & Composition”, “Read, Research & Study Basics”, and “Ancient World History” — and seven were in typing, word processing, and use of the Internet, offered by the “Department of Theological and Biblical Research”. The catalog offered 20 “diplomas”, all in religious subjects.
Tyndale’s catalog offered no “diploma” in any secular subject and no “degree” of any kind, but it characterized programs of study required for a diploma as equivalent to programs of study required for a degree at the same level. For example, the catalog referred to its “Diploma Of Theological Studies” program as a “bachelor equivalent program” and “bachelor equivalent course of studies”, and the “Master of Arts Level Diploma” in “Counseling” as a “Masters Level Program”.
The course catalog did not state that Tyndale’s diplomas were the equivalent of college degrees, but neither did it state that they were not; it was silent on the subject. The catalog stated that Tyndale and Louisiana Baptist Theological Seminary were “going forward with parallel programs [in prophetic studies] and exchange of credits between the two institutions”, but did not otherwise say that Tyndale academic credits could be applied toward earning degrees.
In 1998, Tyndale had never been accredited by an agency recognized by the Coordinating Board and had never obtained a certificate of authority from the Board. Tyndale never sought accreditation or a certificate of authority for what it describes as “doctrinal reasons”. In its 1997-1998 course catalog, Tyndale described its position on accreditation as follows:
Many seminaries are on shifting sands. They feel they must impress the world or the culture with their intellectualism. Thus, some schools are spending large sums of money on appearance and are no longer focusing on the substance — strong theology, solid Bible courses, practical language exegesis, etc.
What validates Tyndale? Tyndale believes it is affirmed by its Board of Advisors, Board of Governors, the students attending and, the world-class Guest Faculty who give our students the best of academics and the greatest training in the spiritual message of the Scriptures. But again, many schools seek RECOGNITION and AFFIRMATION from the state, from secular associations or professional groups that really have no business meddling in biblical matters.
The approach of many seminaries and Bible schools is obsolete and antiquated. They are still trying to be, as they call it, “traditional” schools. But mainly, they simply try to keep up with the Joneses. They attempt to look and act like secular universities. But in reality, a school like Tyndale, and other schools with our convictions, are the ones that are traditional, not the other way around.
For example, in the 1960s, most Christian schools were not accredited, nor did the best want to be. They were satisfied with serving the Lord by being complete and whole within their framework and calling. As well, a student could get the best education at these institutions and know he had not been compromised with the culture. But in the 1970s, a push was on for state approval and accreditation. “We want state and federal government approval. We want the world to like us?” [sic] Did any of this have anything to do with the quality or teaching message of those schools? It did not! When one of the big seminaries became accredited in the 1970s, almost all of the older faculty and all of the graduates testify that the school went down hill — not in a certain secular quality manner, but in its message and commitment to truth and the Gospel.
One of the largest Christian Universities in America has said, “We will not become accredited!” That school today is highly respected and other schools want their graduates. Accreditation or lack of it has not had anything to do with the school’s quality or mission.
At commencement exercises on June 26, 1998, Tyndale recognized graduates with 34 awards, listed in the program with titles as follows:
“Certificate of Biblical Studies (Cert. BS)” — two;
“Diploma of Basic Biblical Studies (Dip. BBS)” — three;
“Associate of Biblical Studies (ABS)” — one;
“Diploma of Advanced Biblical Studies (Dip. ABS)” — one;
“Bachelor Level Diploma in Biblical Studies (BBS)” — two;
“Bachelor Level Diploma in Theological Studies (Dip. Th.S.)” — six;
“Diploma of Christian Studies (DCS)” — two;
“Master of Arts (MA)” — nine;
“Master of Theology (Th.M.) — two;
“Doctor of Ministries (D.Min)” — one;
“Doctor of Theology (Th.D)” — two;
“Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D)” — three.
Attorneys of the Liberty Legal Institute then filed a suit in district court against the state for violating the U.S. and state constitutions. The suit, entitled HEB Ministries v. Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and filed on behalf of Tyndale as well as two other other seminaries in Texas, argued that government attempts to control the religious training of seminaries are unconstitutional. The Austin Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the state and the case was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court.
“The State has no authority or competence to control the training of pastors and ministers”
In August 2007, the Texas State Supreme Court ruled in favor of Tyndale, saying that “state education requirements affecting the institutions ‘impermissibly intrude’ upon religious freedom protected by the U.S. and Texas constitutions.”
The Court ruled that “since the government cannot determine what a church should be, it cannot determine the qualifications a cleric should have or whether a particular person has them. Likewise the government cannot set standards for religious education or training.”
Does the HEB Ministries/Tyndale ruling apply here in the Philippines?
The freedom of religion clause of our 1987 Constitution is of American origin. Thus, interpretations and decisions of the United States Supreme Court with regards freedom of religion are given great weight by our own Supreme Court. In the landmark case of Estrada vs. Escritor (which I also discussed in this blog) for example, our High Court cited numerous passages from US Supreme Court decisions.
Should the issue of accreditation (or non-accreditation) of Bible schools in the Philippines ever reach our courts, then we can cite the Texas State Supreme Court ruling in Tyndale that “the State has no authority or competence to control the training of pastors and ministers.”
Read the complete Tyndale decision of the Texas State Supreme Court