When a Washington County high school student was told that attending a religious worship service would jeopardize his chance to apply for a Tennessee Promise scholarship, ACLU-TN stepped in to protect his religious freedom.

Tennessee Promise is state program providing students two years of tuition-free education at a state community college. The Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (TSAC) administers the scholarship program.

TSAC requires that students attend two meetings to maintain scholarship eligibility, but a meeting at the student’s school was rescheduled in conflict with worship services at his church, where he is a service leader. When his family requested that he attend an already-scheduled make-up session for excused absences or a meeting at another school, they were told that church was not considered an acceptable excuse and that missing a mandatory meeting would make him ineligible for a scholarship.

ACLU-TN sent a letter to TSAC on the student’s behalf, asserting that the state is constitutionally prohibited from burdening a student’s free exercise of religion and requesting that the student’s absence be excused, as well as that of any other student with a religious conflict.

TSAC agreed, allowing the student to attend a make-up session. ACLU-TN has requested that the rules be permanently amended to include constitutionally protected activity, so that all future students applying for Tennessee Promise can exercise their religious freedom without issue.

Related Documents

Press Releases

ACLU-TN Protects Student from Choice Between Faith & Scholarship (March 17, 2015)

Legal Documents

Follow-up Letter to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (March 17, 2015)

Initial Letter to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (March 10, 2015)