The Cabining of Rosenberger: Locke v. Davey and the Broad Nondiscrimination Principle That Never Was
Virginia Law Review
In Rosenberger (1995), the Supreme Court decided that the University of Virginia could not exclude religious organizations from an activities fund that subsidized student organizations. Nine years later, the Court in Locke v. Davey held that Washington could exclude students of devotional theology from a generally available scholarship program; there was, in the Court’s words, “play in the joints” between what the Establishment Clause forbids and what the Free Exercise Clause requires. The cases seemed to contradict one another.
This Note explores whether Rosenberger announced a broad principle of nondiscrimination with respect to religion and whether Davey reneged on that promise. There is a strong, though by no means dispositive, argument that Rosenberger embodies a nondiscrimination principle. Assessing whether the principle has applicability in a wider array of cases, such as Davey, requires analysis of three lines of precedent—“play in the joints” cases, governmental funding cases, and public forum cases. Davey essentially inaugurated a new era of Religion Clauses jurisprudence by reinvigorating the theory of “play in the joints.” Consequently, hardly any scholarship has addressed the theory. Scholars have also neglected how Davey affected public forum cases (like Rosenberger). Most significantly, no analysis to date has explored the interaction of these three lines of precedent. My analysis is generally positive in nature, although it has important normative implications, particularly in light of the tension between Rosenberger and Davey.
Finally, I consider how courts have treated Rosenberger. Culminating with Davey, courts consistently have refused to recognize a broad nondiscrimination principle, thereby sounding the death knell for Rosenberger.
Alan M. Trammell, The Cabining of Rosenberger: Locke v. Davey and the Broad Nondiscrimination Principle That Never Was, 92 Va. L. Rev. 1957 (2006).