LDS Student Sues Over Loss of Scholarship

Promise ScholarThe state of West Virginia offers financial aid to students via various funds and scholarships. One, PROMISE Scholarship (Providing Real Opportunities for Maximizing In-state Student Excellence), is described on its web site as “a merit-based scholarship program designed to keep qualified students in West Virginia by making college affordable.” As reported in The West Virginia Record,

“A West Virginia University student is suing a state scholarship board, claiming his constitutional rights were violated when his scholarship was taken away because he chose religion over education.

“David Isaac Haws, a 21-year-old Mormon student from Bridgeport, is the subject of a lawsuit filed in federal court July 19 by the American Civil Liberties Union. The suit claims the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and PROMISE Scholarship Board violated his First Amendment rights to freely exercise his religion.

“Haws claims he was refused a deferment of his PROMISE scholarship when he chose to serve a two-year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.”

After being awarded the PROMISE Scholarship in 2004, Mr. Haws attended the West Virginia University for one year, maintaining a 4.0 GPA. At the end of that academic year Mr. Haws requested a scholarship deferment so he could go on a two year mission for the LDS Church. His request was denied in accordance with scholarship rules. He appealed the board’s decision in August of 2005, losing the appeal.

“The suit says Haws was then forced to choose between his education and his religious calling.

“‘This was a hard decision for Mr. Haws,’ the suit says. ‘But his devotion to Jesus Christ came first, so he chose to serve his mission.'”Scales of Justice

Mr. Haws made an admirable choice. After weighing his options and their consequences, he decided to take the road less traveled. He chose commitment to his church over money.

But now Mr. Haws is suing the state scholarship board.

“Haws seeks a declaration that the actions of the boards are unconstitutional, illegal and void. He seeks immediate reinstatement of his scholarship and all the rights and privileges he had when he completed the Spring 2005 semester. He also seeks attorney fees, court costs and other damages.”

To put Mr. Haws’ claims in some sort of context, the PROMISE Scholarship allows for leaves of absence for those requiring family medical leave, bereavement leave, military leave, and unforeseen leave. In other words, it allows for leaves for things outside of the student’s control. In addition, the Leave of Absence Policy states:

1. Personal Leave

The PROMISE Board does not wish to grant personal leaves of absence for any reason.

When Mr. Haws began his college education with the PROMISE Scholarship, the Leave of Absence Policy was in place. When he decided to voluntarily leave school at that particular time in order to serve an LDS mission, he understood that decision would require him to give up the scholarship.

Okay, these are the facts as reported in the media. The courts will decide whether Mr. Haws’ claims have merit. But I’m interested in what you think.

Do you think Mr. Haws’ First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion was violated by the scholarship boards’ decision?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.

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19 Responses to LDS Student Sues Over Loss of Scholarship

  1. Neal says:

    I have some mixed feelings here. I agree that Mr. Haws did an admirable thing in following his conviction to serve his mission no matter the cost. That kind of dedication is the trait of a true Christian. I also agree that rules are rules. If his decision voided his scholarship –so be it. That is the cost. As a 4.0 student I would suppose other scholarships would surely be available and he ought to move on.

    However, I also understand that there may be a broader implication here, which is why the ACLU has become involved. A scholarship that specifically allows deferments for many reasons but that fails to include a deferment on religious grounds may indeed test the limits of a Constitutional right to exercise religion. The courts are the only place to settle such issues, and perhaps this is a time that a win may provide a rare victory in our secular world for religious rights.

    I will be interested to see how this plays out.

  2. Falcon says:

    The rules seem pretty straight-forward regarding the scholarship. Again, sometimes in life you have to make sacrifices for what you believe in. I think we have a generation of young people who too often want it their way. I know, I’ve recently taught college students. Too many of them have been told from little on that they’re the center of the universe and they should get a trophy just for signing-up regardless of performance. It creates expectations in them, in a general sense, that might not always be realistic. This student may be a great kid but this would have been a good opportunity for some adult to articulate another message.

  3. rick b says:

    I find this rather sad

    He chose commitment to his church over money.

    The Bible teaches WE are the Church, the Body of believers, not a building we worship in or the so called leader of the church. Then when he says he choose to serve his two year missions, the Bible teaches we are to make disaples all over the world.

    I am a missionary everyday every where I go, school, work, and play. I might be the only bible some people ever read. Then I find it sad that this kid knew the rules well in advance, yet he wants both worlds, he could not have both so now he sues. That is really sad. Rick b

  4. jonathan says:

    It is about personal responsibility and accepting both the blessings and trials of service to God. Whether your God be the God of Mormonism, or the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (the Everlasting God). I can only guess, but it seems that this young man did not have that good of an experience on his LDS mission. Why else would he want his money back for serving?

    I wonder if after Paul’s first missionary journey if he had wanted to return to study under the feet of Gamaliel at Pharisee school, if he would have been given his place of study back? Or did Paul live with both the blessings and trials that came from his service to the Lord. This young man should do the same. (He is not a mature adult)

    This young man needs to stop being selfish. He must have learned nothing of service or putting others before himself while on his two year regimented LDS mission. He like many others need to stop serving God to see what he can get out of it, and just start serving God, period.

  5. Interested says:

    Neal, nice to see you back. I agree that this is a very sad situation. It is sad that the decision had to be made between two important choices.
    Some of you are much too harsh on this young man. He made a decision based on what was the more important to him at the time. It is very sad also that today it seems that many choose to let the courts settle something that never should have come before them. It is my opinion that too often a law suit is filed in cases where it should not be.

    I am sure this was a dificult decision for him and his family but he did have a choice. He should stand by it.

  6. rick b says:

    Interested said,

    Some of you are much too harsh on this young man.

    Dont know if I am one of them you mentioned, but like I said, we are missionary’s every where we go, I am not a missionary only a set time of my life, I could go to school and be a witness their, then after school be a missionary at the Job I take. People have this false Idea that in order to be a missionary you must leave the country and serve God over seas. I am being a missionary simply by using the internet and sharing the REAL JESUS with a lost and dying world, and those blinded by false teachers, prophets and doctrines of demons. Rick b

  7. Eileen says:

    Sorry, but this young man made his decision and now he is going to waste the courts time. The rules seemed very clear at the time he accepted the scholarship and also at the time he went on his mission

  8. d allison says:

    Ok here is the big confussion, ACLU is on the religion side of the street. Thank you but no thank you.
    What has this young man given up if he wins? The whole purpose of the mission is to make the sacrifice for the Lord. RIGHT?

    Now as far as guide lines for the PROMISE Scholarship has a negative religion policy then that is for the courts to decided.

    If the Lord is first then as word says: Jhn 15:21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

    Luk 21:12 “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.
    I don’t here and then sue them…..

  9. chloe says:

    oh, dear. He is obviously regretting his decision to give up his scholarship for his mission trip, but whether or no he would choose the same now, or whatever he feels is more important to him at this time, it was still his decision. He had perfect freedom of religion: he was free to follow his faith and what he felt was his calling, there would simply be some repercussions. If I were to leave my job and home for two long years to go to, say, Africa on a mission trip, I would not expect my job waiting for me upon my return. Most people are familiar with Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” and I am reminded of a line there–“knowing how way leads on to way/I doubted if I should ever come back.” When we encounter forks in the road, we need to understand that we cannot explore both equally–in choosing one path, we are necessarily NOT choosing the other.

    Did anyone force him to go on his mission? Was his eternal salvation at risk, thus making this a circumstance completely out of his control? I would have commended him for his devotion and self-sacrifice, if he were not demanding “back-pay.” Asking the world to stop and wait for him while he peddles his bike and quad about on a mission will certainly not help the Mormon image of being service-oriented or having high integrity. It is also not persecution to have to go through previously understood consequences to a decision.

  10. Neal says:

    Rick B.,

    There is a distinction that you are missing. The LDS Church teaches as well that “every member is a missionary”. This young man, as well as many others, chose to serve a full time mission — giving up everything for two years to serve. Upon his return, he would still be expected to be a missionary in the way that you define — to teach the gospel, to be an example, etc. It is unfair, I think, for jonathon to assume he had a bad mission experience. Whatever his actions now, he did give up two years to serve full time. I appreciate interested’s concern for the difficult dilemma. It may be that what this young man wins is the recognition by the courts for MANY people of different religions to exercise their religious convictions without penalty. We should pray for a victory that benefits all of us and strikes a blow against an increasingly secular world rather than be too harsh on a young man trying to follow his conviction.

  11. If an evangelical Christian got a scholarship, but then notified his scholarship benefactors that he was going on a two-year mission to Namibia, I would be embarrassed if he took the scholarship benefactor to court. For one thing, scholarships are not a right, they are a privilege. Secondly, a grown adult should know what they are giving up by leaving for such a mission trip.

    So whether evangelical or LDS, I’d say to such a person: grow up, and welcome to the real world.

    Lastly, does such a person (with a great high school record and a college freshman 4.0 GPA) really think it’s going to be hard to get another scholarship upon return?

  12. Ralph says:

    I have mixed feelings about this issue and it depends on what his thoughts are. As an LDS member I left on my mission and left behind a few things. It is about the sacrifice as well as the service, as some have mentioned in this blog. The rules are clear, and the main allowances for leave of absence are short ones – ie family matters/berievment/ etc – as someone else pointed out things that one has no control over. However, one of the allownces is military leave. Now I don’t know what the current conditions in the American military but from the TV shows we get in Australia it appears that military service is at least a year, in Australia its up to 1 year depending on circumstances, sometimes a bit more. The person signing the scholarship, if they are already in the military, know that they may be expected to leave for that period of time when necessary. Yes its unknown if or when, but the time away is still substantial.

    So what Haws may be trying to do is say that its unfair to allow for a long leave of absence for other things but not allow for religious reasons. It does not specify if he is saying just for LDS or for all religions, but it sounds like it is for all religions.

    Personally I think he is doing the right thing in trying to get religious rights heard, but I think he is doing it the wrong way by taking it to court.

  13. Robert says:

    We live in a society where we think that everything is owed to us and this young man is no exception.
    As has been said here…you chose your path knowing full well what the implications were. Deal with it.

  14. Earl Shields says:

    In life we have choices to make. In this case a choice was made that had at least one negagive consequence. If we take a wrong turn on the highway, when we discover it is not getting us where we want to be, we often have to go back to where the choice was made and start again in a different direction. I hear no evidence that this young man went back and reapplied for scholarship he lost. Why waste court time pursuing legal action before you reapply and see where that leads. If he was elligable once, he should still be elligable if he reapplies again.
    There are just too many lawyers out scounging for money, pursuing legal action that often boils down to kite flying for pay.

  15. Qahal says:

    As an attorney I can’t believe this lawsuit was even filed. Then again, leave it to the ACLU to file frivolous claims. There is no legal basis in this circumstance to claim an infringement of the free exercise of religion. There is a neutral standard applied to the scholarship. Unless there is evidence of a specific and deliberate attempt on the part of the state scholarship board to discriminate against him because of his religion, then my money says that this thing never even gets to trial.

  16. Clark says:

    The student in question (David Haws) has been offered another scholarship from Southern Virginia University. (A school that some people refer to as BYU-Virginia, though it isn’t directly funded or sponsored by the LDS Church) This might put the case to rest, though I still have some comments.

    When I originally read this story, my first thought was to ask; didn’t Haws read the fine print? I know of a number of LDS friends of mine who have received different types of college scholarships, and even though they served LDS missions, they didn’t those scholarships. (And no, these friends I’m referring to did not all attend BYU)

    I think Haws and his parents should have understood the ins and outs of the PROMISE scholarship before accepting it. That’s just my opinion.

    One more thing – I can’t help but wonder how many of you who oppose this lawsuit would support lawsuits regarding topics like 10 Commandments displays, prayer at high school graduations or at public meetings. Now don’t get me wrong, I agree the Haws situation should have been taken care of long before a lawsuit was filed, but how is this any different from other lawsuits which some Christians should realize are no-winners?

  17. Jerry says:

    Sue crazy America, we have more lawyers than we need, they advertise their lack of business on TV begging us to sue one another for such inane things these days. Folks if your gonna dance you gotta pay the fiddler, grow up America and accept some respnsibility. We have become so spoiled that not only do we want our cake and eat it too but we want other folks share of their cake. Its a never ending cycle of greed.

  18. rick b says:

    Jerry said

    Sue crazy America, we have more lawyers than we need, they advertise their lack of business on TV begging us to sue one another for such inane things these days. Folks if your gonna dance you gotta pay the fiddler, grow up America and accept some respnsibility.

    Jerry,one thing your missing is this, The judges that hear these cases allow them. If the judges would simply throw them out as a waste of time and money, less people would sue. Rick b

  19. Michael says:

    no his rights were not violated. He knew what the consequences were when he chose the mission over his scholarship. the rules and agreements found in the legalities of the scholarship clear state that unless the leave was an unforeseen necessity, he would give his scholarship. He did an honorable thing. Now, it sounds like he is regretting his choice, too bad life is full of consequences and he had the benefit of choosing this one.

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