ACLU Champions Religious Freedom Of Mormon College Student

July 19, 2007

CONTACT: Andrew Schneider, (304) 345-9246

CHARLESTON, WV – In a lawsuit filed today, the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia sought to win a leave of absence for a PROMISE scholar serving a two-year mission for his church.  PROMISE authorities repeatedly denied the pleas of David Haws to defer his scholarship for two years so that he could fulfill the expectation of his religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, that male members of the church serve a mission when they are 19 years old.

Faced with a choice between his scholarship and his religious calling, Mr. Haws resolved to follow his religion.  He is now nearing the end of his two years of teaching and working with disadvantaged people in eastern Nevada, eastern California, and western Arizona.

“By denying leaves of absence for religious reasons while allowing them for non-religious ones, the PROMISE Board is in effect making the abandonment of religion the price of equal education opportunity,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia.

David Haws was Bridgeport High School’s valedictorian in 2004, achieving a 4.0 average.  In the fall of 2004, he used his PROMISE scholarship to fund his tuition at West Virginia University.  He ended his freshman year with a 4.0 average, then applied for a two-year leave of absence so he could serve his mission.  That was when he learned that although leaves of absence could be granted for military, medical, and family reasons, in addition to leave at the Board’s discretion for an “unforeseen leave possibility,” there were no leaves for religious reasons.  Haws is asking that his scholarship be reinstated so that he can continue his education during the fall 2007 semester.

“David is an exemplary student, who will be an asset to our state,” said Jonathan Matthews, who is representing Mr. Haws on behalf of the ACLU-WV.   “The purpose of the PROMISE scholarship is to keep qualified students in West Virginia by making college affordable.  We should not discourage students like David Haws by burdening their religion.”

The lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, alleges violation of Haws’ rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.  It seeks a declaratory judgment, temporary and permanent injunctive relief, damages, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses.                                    .

Matthews is the ACLU cooperating attorney in the case, with ACLU of West Virginia legal director Terri Baur as co-counsel.

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