Are clergy “public servants”? That seems to be the real question behind whether or not clergy qualify for student loan forgiveness under recent legislation.
Part of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, the law specified that as long as students took public service jobs at nonprofits and made on-time loan payments for 10 years, their remaining debt would be wiped out. Matthew calculated that for him this would work out to his paying $450 a month for a decade.
Over the four years since the law passed, seminaries across the country have conducted financial aid seminars explaining and publicizing this loan forgiveness program.
But last week, the Department of Education released guidelines outlining exactly who qualifies for loan forgiveness. It turns out that employees whose work is related to “religious instruction, worship services, or any form of proselytizing” don’t fit the bill.
What’s not to love about student loan forgiveness? It might be useful to have the government stay away from funding religious work, however indirectly. (Whether this would be consistent is another story. Clergy get special tax consideration, after all.) But surely to deny that religious workers are public servants is to deny from the start the public nature of “religion.” In any case there are several parallels with the ongoing showdown between the Obama administration and the USCCB, and no solution is likely to satisfy everyone.