ADF helps prevent shut-down of Wyo. Bible colleges

Legal analysis by ADF attorneys prompts new law protecting Bible colleges from intrusive government regulation
Monday, March 08, 2010

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — A new law signed by Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal Wednesday fixes a poorly written state statute and prevents the state from intrusively regulating or closing down Bible colleges. Letters from the Alliance Defense Fund to officials with the Wyoming Department of Education on behalf of two Bible schools helped prompt the bill that led to the amendment.

“The government shouldn’t seek to regulate or shut down private Christian schools that are simply training people for ministry and missionary work,” said ADF Litigation Counsel Daniel Blomberg. “We were pleased to represent two Bible colleges before state legislators and Department of Education officials, leading to a law which now protects the religious liberty of Christian schools throughout Wyoming. We applaud the state’s decisive action to protect First Amendment rights.”

In 2006, in an attempt to address problems with “diploma mills,” the state of Wyoming amended a statute to allow it to regulate purely religious post-secondary schools. The change resulted in expensive and extensive regulation of legitimate religious schools, including a requirement that strangely would have forced Bible colleges to consider people who don’t believe in the Bible for teaching positions.  However, state law exempted from licensure many other types of training institutions, including leadership, environmental, and flight schools.

Last year, state officials informed Frontier School of the Bible that it must seek costly accreditation or become licensed with the state. Both options would have forced Frontier to make major and crippling changes in its Bible training program, but noncompliance would result in the LaGrange school’s closure. ADF attorneys sent a letter on the school’s behalf before the closure deadline, arguing against the constitutionality of the state’s actions and the amended statute. Working with the state officials, ADF reached a compromise that allowed Frontier to continue operations while a legislative fix was made to the statute.

This year, state officials began investigating Jackson Hole Bible College. ADF attorneys sent a letter on JHBC’s behalf to the state, explaining the school’s rights protected by the Constitution and pointing to the impending and widely backed legislative fix, which would quickly resolve the matter once passed.

The fix was Wyoming House Bill 16, which House Majority Floor Leader Rep. Ed Buchanan wrote, introduced, and sponsored before its virtually uncontested passage. On behalf of Frontier and JHBC, ADF attorneys provided guidance on the provisions and constitutional integrity of HB 16 and conducted negotiations with the Department of Education concerning the final language of the bill.

For more than 50 years, Frontier has provided unaccredited vocational Bible instruction to students preparing to be missionaries, pastors, and youth ministry workers. To cut educational costs for students going into low-paying ministerial careers, Frontier’s staff does not receive salaries but instead depends on voluntary financial support. JHBC is a religious instructional ministry of Community Bible Church in Jackson. It does not grant degrees and is led by the church’s pastor to teach principles of Christian leadership exclusively through religious studies.

ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.