The department's Civil Rights Division filed a friend-of-the-court brief Friday in U.S. District Court in Charleston on behalf of David Haws, a student at West Virginia University. Haws, a Mormon, is suing a state scholarship board, alleging it violated his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion. His attorney argues that by denying Haws' request for a leave of absence, the board forced him to choose between his religion and his scholarship through a state program, known as PROMISE. The Justice Department noted that the PROMISE Board grants deferments for military and community service, and that by denying a deferral for religious purposes, the board was placing a lower value on religious deferments. Haws' attorney, John Matthews of the West Virginia chapter of the ACLU, said he was surprised by the federal government's support. "Obviously you don't always see or think of the ACLU and the Bush administration being on the same side," he said. An attorney for the state declined to comment. The state's request to dismiss Haws' lawsuit notes that Mormon missions are encouraged, not required. Haws was "under no compulsion to choose between the tenets of his religion and continued receipt of the PROMISE scholarship," the motion reads. Haws, who has a 4.0 grade point average, returned to West Virginia this month after spending two years helping to improve conditions for Hispanic workers in Western states. He has re-enrolled at WVU, and the university has agreed to defer his tuition at least through November while the lawsuit is pending. Haws' lawsuit seeks the reinstatement of the scholarship and a change in the PROMISE Board's scholarship policy.
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