A federal court ruling that upholds Idaho State University's practice of granting college credit for classes taken at the LDS Church-run Institute of Religion likely won't bring about any changes in Utah.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled that the religious studies program in the school has a secular purpose. Its principal effect does not advance or inhibit religion, and students are not forced or coerced to take the courses or participate in any religious exercise, he said.Harden R. Eyring, legal counsel to the Utah System of Higher Education, said the ruling should have little effect in Utah although it does establish some valuable legal precedent.
"It doesn't have any direct precedent for Utah, but it does explore an area of law that has not been defined before. It probably has some benefit in setting up precedent. Most of the case law that has been argued is K-12 stuff. This distinguishes K-12 as different than the collegiate issues," Eyring said.
Eyring said Utah schools could conceivably offer credit for institute classes, but "whether anyone would want to is another question. It would be up to higher education to initiate it."
"The LDS Church has institutes all over the world without having any college credit. It isn't anything, or at least it's not my impression, it's anything they're agitating for."
John Morris, general counsel to the University of Utah, said ISU's model is unique among colleges nationwide.
"Putting aside the constitutional issues, most people would argue it's not a very good idea," Morris said. If the U. offered credit, it would require some control over course content, which might offend the institute, he said.
Paul Browning, director of the Salt Lake University Institute of Religion, said Wednesday that the institute has never asked U. officials to offer college credit for its classes nor does he foresee doing so.
The institute serves about 8,000 students a year. Other institutes are operated near state universities and colleges in Utah.
"We'd like to have more (enrollment), but we don't think offering credit would change that at all," he said.
Browning said the institute in Pocatello helps ISU because students can earn credit, and the state is spared the expense of salaries and classroom space.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint's Institute of Religion is one of three groups offering classes as part of the religious studies program at ISU. The Logos Center and Evangelical programs are the others.
The Idaho complaint had named university President Richard Bowen, other administrators and the state Board of Education as defendants. Lodge's ruling concludes a legal dispute that started about three years ago when the school and church agreed to a land swap on campus.
Lodge ruled there is no excessive entanglement between any of the defendants and any religious entity.