Small seminary must pay fine, court rules

The Associated Press, July 24, 2003
http://www.dfw.com/

AUSTIN – An Austin appeals court ruled Thursday that Tyndale Theological Seminary in Fort Worth must pay a fine of $173,000 for issuing degrees without state authority to so do.

The 3rd Court of Appeals said the seminary, operated by HEB Ministries, must pay the fine imposed in 1998 by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

The amount includes penalties for issuing 34 degrees plus the appeals court’s reinstatement of a $3,000 penalty because the institution uses the word “seminary” in its name.

By restricting degree-granting powers of post-secondary institutions and restricting the use of academic terms in the names of institutions, the Texas Legislature has assured that those institutions meet basic educational standards, the court wrote.

The court rejected Tyndale’s argument that the state’s actions violate freedom of religion.

“This is an outrageous decision. The state has now been given control of all seminaries across the state and can now dictate the education of the pastors and their churches,” said Kelly Shackelford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, which filed the lawsuit on behalf Tyndale.

The Hispanic Bible Institute in San Antonio and the Southern Bible Institute in Dallas joined the lawsuit.

The Liberty Legal Institute intends to seek a review of the case by the full 3rd Court of Appeals, a spokeswoman for the group said.

Tyndale Registrar John Cook said Thursday that the college continues to offer courses, but awards only “graduate-level diplomas,” not degrees.

Tyndale, at 6800 Brentwood Stair Road, was founded in 1988 as a training center for interested Christians. It also offers courses to help prepare for the ministry.

Cook said enrollment at Tyndale declined from 350 in the spring of 2001, after state District Judge Paul Davis of Travis County upheld a $170,000 fine imposed by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board for conferring 34 theological degrees. Davis had set aside a fine of $3,000 for use of the word “seminary” in the school’s name.

Cook declined to give the current enrollment figures Thursday.

The 1975 Texas Education Code mandates that only accredited institutions have the right to award bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees.

Citing religious freedom, some small seminaries do not seek a certificate of authority from the coordinating board or accreditation through the major evaluating organizations.

Star-Telegram Staff Writer Toni Heinzl contributed to this story.

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