St. Louis U: Jesuitical finessing or victory for 1st Amendment?

St. Louis U: Jesuitical finessing or victory for 1st Amendment?

St. Louis University is a Jesuit-run institution, which recently won a court decision that says it “is not controlled by a religious creed.”

The school had asked the Missouri Supreme Court to declare that it is not “controlled by the Catholic Church or by its Catholic beliefs” as part of a dispute over $8 million in “tax increment financing” for its new arena.

The Missouri Constitution prohibits public funding to support any “… college, university, or other institution of learning controlled by any religious creed, church or sectarian denomination whatever.”

The debate came down to two words: “control” and “creed.” Does the guiding mission of a Catholic university align with the specific system of religious faith espoused by the Catholic church? And if so, does that system of faith control the actions of the university?

The university said it is not owned or controlled by the Jesuits or by the Catholic Church (or even by the mission of those organizations), but that it is directed by its mostly lay board of trustees.

Isn’t this the sort of result we’ve been wanting from the court system for years?

The obvious response is to say that St. Louis University, from this point on, should no longer advertise itself as either a Catholic school or even a Jesuit school. Nor should it say that it offers an education “in the Jesuit tradition.” After all, some are saying, SLU is only acknowledging what we already know to be true: that what it does is not guided by Catholic moral principles.

A rare moment of levity in the process was provided by the ACLU of all people: “In a friend-of-the-court brief filed on behalf of the Masonic Temple Association, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was ‘surprising the University would sell its heritage for $8 million.’” Why should it be surprising, one might reply? The Son of God was sold for 30 pieces of silver, after all.

Wait a minute… Maybe that’s not what it says

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Written by
Domenico Bettinelli