Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Sports Mixing With Religion and Politics: Majerus, Abortion, Basketball Arenas, and Tax Abatements
This morning at the March of Life in Washington, D.C., St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke criticized Majerus' support of Hillary Clinton, publicly stating that he supports stem cell research and abortion rights (Majerus was interviewed by KMOV Channel 4 in St. Louis on Saturday night). Burke's issue is that Majerus, a practicing Roman Catholic, is the head men's basketball coach at a Jesuit, Catholic University (St. Louis University), and as such, should be disciplined. Burke's comments follow:
"It's not possible to be a Catholic, and hold those positions. When you take a position in a Catholic university, you don't have to embrace everything the Catholic church teaches, but you can't make statements which call into question the identity and mission of the Catholic Church."
Jeff Fowler, spokesman for SLU, responded that Majerus made his comments based on his own personal beliefs, and not as a representative of SLU, seeming to indicate that SLU will not take any action.
Keep in mind that SLU is a Jesuit University run by the Society of Jesus (like all Loyola's, Boston College, Georgetown, etc.), separately autonomous, and legally chartered with its own Board of Trustees.
Some of you may recall that opponents of the SLU Billikens receiving public financing for the new Chaifetz Arena lost in a case that made it up to the Missouri Supreme Court (St. Louis Univ. v. Masonic Temple Ass'n of St. Louis, 220 S.W.3d 721 (Mo. 2007)).
SLU sought Tax Increment Financing (TIF) from the State to support urban renewal in blighted areas through tax abatements. The Masonic Temple Association of St. Louis sought to have the ordinances introducing these abatements declared unconstitutional in Federal court (later dismissed upon defendants' motion), thereafter, SLU sought declaratory relief in State court upholding the ordinances.
Masonic first argued that the ordinances violated Missouri's Establishment Clause as the abatements would be impermissible financial aid to a university under the control of a "religious doctrine or creed." Id. at 726. The Court (internal citations omitted) found that just because a school was affiliated with the Jesuits or the Roman Catholic Church, did not make the same a religious institution. Further, simple affiliation with a religion does not equal control by a religious creed for purposes of Missouri's establishment clause. Id. at 727. SLU has a Jesuit president, but he serves at the pleasure of a lay board, and SLU's bylaws displayed an aspiration to ideals, not an adherence to a creed. Id. at 727-28. As such, the Court found that SLU was not controlled by a religious doctrine or creed, and further added that the purpose of the funds was to redevelop a blighted area, not advance religion. Id.
And as a result...we get to see the offensive juggernaut that is the Billikens in their new digs!
Hat tip: Deirdre Shesgreen and Tom Timmerman of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch for Majerus comments and backlash.