A Texas appeals-court panel ruled on July 24 that Tyndale Theological Seminary & Biblical Institute in Fort Worth must pay a fine of $173,000 for issuing 34 degrees without permission from the state to do so.
The ruling upheld a lower-court decision against the school and reinstated a $3,000 penalty for using "seminary" in its name without state approval. The court rejected Tyndale's argument that the state's requirements violate freedom of religion.
Tyndale was founded in 1988. Its president is Mal Couch, a 1964 Dallas Seminary graduate, holder of two earned doctorates, and author and editor of scholarly works. Other faculty members also hold doctorates, and the school is home to the Conservative Theological Society. Enrollment reached 350 by 2001 but dipped following the lower-court decision, school officials said. The school still offers courses, but awards only "graduate-level diplomas" rather than "degrees."
In the name of consumer protection, a 1975 state law says post-secondary schools cannot issue degrees unless they are accredited or receive special approval by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Since it can take years for a new degree-granting school to receive approval by a regional accrediting body, it means the school must be certified by the state board. Among other things, the board sets standards for curriculum, faculty, degrees, and even the names that institutions can use. The board filed suit against Tyndale in 1998 and levied the fines.
The court decision is "outrageous," declared Kelly Shackleford, chief counsel for Liberty Legal Institute, which defended Tyndale. "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." Liberty likely will seek a review by the full court of appeals, a spokesperson said.