Illinois Bible Colleges Petition for Rehearing

CHICAGO—On September 12, the Illinois Bible College Association (IBCA) filed a petition for a rehearing of their right to operate and grant religious degrees without government interference. The Seventh Circuit Court judge panel, who heard the oral argument in December 2016, affirmed the federal district court’s decision to deny the Bible colleges the freedom to grant degrees. 

Obtaining state approval requires the Bible colleges to give up their autonomy in the religious education of their students. They argue that the state’s regulations on what defines a “degree” are written too broadly, that they are an unlawful restriction on free speech, and that they impose content-based speech regulations. These regulations would require the college to relinquish its rights in defining the content of its religious educational programs and allow the state to determine what the college must teach and who is allowed to teach it. Furthermore, the colleges argue that the state statutes limit free speech in that they prohibit the Bible colleges from communicating to its students that they have “satisfactorily completed an organized academic program of study beyond the secondary school level.” But in its order submitted August 29, the panel of judges denied that Illinois’ statutes are content-based regulations and asserted that the colleges’ free speech was not violated.

Throughout its opinion, the panel insists that the Bible colleges’ civil rights were not violated since they did not submit their religious content to the Illinois Board of Higher Education, which IBCA argues is an infringement of their rights because it first requires that they violate their sincerely held religious beliefs and submit to the state. However, violation of rights can be as simple as “chilling” one’s ability to do something. The Bible colleges object to submitting their programs to the government, not because they anticipate being treated unfairly, but because having to submit religious education programs to the government at all is intrusive.

“We are disappointed in the court’s decision in August. Illinois should not have a role in the accreditation of private religious colleges. It should not be within government authority to approve of or determine the proper content in religious degrees. The state’s monopoly on the term degree prevents small Bible colleges from flourishing,” said attorney John Mauck, the bible colleges’ legal representative.

As of now, the Bible colleges may grant their students certificates but not degrees.

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