Last November, Joanna Maxon, a former student at Fuller Theological Seminary, sued the school for expelling her for no other reason than she was in a same-sex marriage. In January, another former student, Nathan Brittsan, joined the lawsuit for the same reason.
You might think a seminary has every right to expel students for whatever reason they want, but this case was slightly more complicated because Fuller Theological Seminary received federal funding. A lawyer for the two plaintiffs said that meant the school was “required to comply with Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination as applied to LGBT individuals.”
(The other question about why two students in same-sex relationships would ever want to go to a school that was anti-LGBTQ is important but irrelevant as far as the law was concerned.)
The lawsuit itself said FTS was not exempt from those Title IX rules just because it was a religious school. Because it was controlled by a board of directors, rather than a religious institution, that meant it should be treated like any other publicly funded school. That is to say: They broke the law. FTS lawyers argued that wasn’t the case; they were still a religious institution and could set its own rules as a result, even if those rules were discriminatory.
On Wednesday, a California federal district court weighed in on the matter, saying the school had every right to kick out those students. The religious exemptions to Title IX applied to Fuller Theological Seminary, said U.S. District Judge Consuelo B. Marshall.
Attorneys representing Fuller Theological Seminary said the ruling marks the first time a federal court has recognized a religious liberty exemption for faith-based educational institutions.
“It would create a huge establishment clause [issue] if you have government agents going in and telling a seminary how to do their job and practice their faith,” Daniel Blomberg, a senior attorney for the religious liberty law firm Becket who represented the seminary, told The Washington Times.
One important caveat here: Normally, for a federally funded educational institution to get this we-can-be-bigots religious exemption, they need to request it from the federal government. The Trump administration — specifically, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — arbitrarily got rid of that rule.
A lawyer for the students says they’ll appeal to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
(via Religion Clause)