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.
ACLU-TN Protects Student from Choice Between Faith & Scholarship (March 17, 2015)
Follow-up Letter to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (March 17, 2015)
Initial Letter to the Tennessee Student Assistance Corporation (March 10, 2015)