PASADENA, California, January 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Two graduate students who were expelled from an Evangelical seminary after it was discovered both were “married” to members of the same sex have filed a $2 million lawsuit claiming sex discrimination.
The lawsuit, brought by plaintiffs Joanna Maxon and Nathan Brittsan, was filed in the U.S. District Court for Central California against Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
Maxon filed suit in November and was joined last week by Brittsan.
‘A dangerous argument’
At issue is Federal Title IX rules that ban discrimination on the basis of sex, but which beginning with the Obama administration have increasingly been stretched to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
The case is an important one because it could force faith-based institutions that accept federal funding and reject the notion of same-sex “marriage” to either drop federal funding or drop prohibitions against same-sex “marriage.”
“That’s one of the main implications,” Paul Southwick, the attorney representing Brittsan and Maxon, told Religion News Service (RNS).
“It’s a very important case at this time in our nation’s history,” Southwick told Christianity Today. “This case could set an important legal precedent that if an educational institution receives federal funding, even if it’s religiously affiliated, even if it’s a seminary, that it’s required to comply with Title IX prohibitions on sex discrimination as applied to LGBT individuals.”
The lawyer representing Fuller Theological Seminary essentially views the significance of the case and its potential impact on religious educational institutions in the same way as the plaintiff’s attorney.
Daniel Blomberg, senior counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said this case is “really about whether or not religious groups get to define what it means to be a member of that particular religious community or whether you can use government power to force religious groups to change their minds and change their beliefs.”
“It’s a very dangerous attempt,” he said, adding, “It’s a very dangerous argument.”
The claims here are dangerous for faith-based institutions,” said Blomberg. “If the court was to accept them, then they would be harmful to religious groups of all backgrounds and particularly minority religious groups that have beliefs that the majority and the surrounding communities might find unpopular … We think that’s unlikely that courts would accept these kinds of arguments because they’re weak claims. But they’re dangerous.”
Trista Eazell, a student at Fuller who launched an online petition in support of the homosexual student plaintiffs, also sees the case as historic, saying the case is “a big deal.”
“Nothing quite this big has happened at a Christian university,” said Eazell.
While religious groups, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have applauded the Trump administration’s commitment to protecting religious liberty, Secretary Betsy DeVos has made it clear that the Department of Education will “protect students bullied because of LGBTQ identity” according to The Washington Times.
About 75 schools have preemptively sought exemptions from the Obama administration's interpretation of Title IX to include gender and sexual orientation, arguing that enforcement would encroach on their institution’s right to religious liberty.
While Fuller is reportedly not among those who have filed for an exemption, the U.S. Department of Education rules allow “religious institutions that have neither sought nor received prior written assurance from the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) may still invoke their exemption after OCR receives a Title IX complaint.”
Some have wondered why the plaintiffs in the case, Maxon and Brittsan, who are in same-sex “marriages,” elected to attend Fuller knowing it’s clearly stated community standards:
Fuller Theological Seminary believes that sexual union must be reserved for marriage, which is the covenant union between one man and one woman, and that sexual abstinence is required for the unmarried. The seminary believes premarital, extramarital, and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. Consequently, the seminary expects all members of its community — students, faculty, administrators/managers, staff, and trustees — to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.
The school’s website also states, “The seminary does lawfully discriminate on the basis of sexual conduct that violates its biblically based Community Standard Statement on Sexual Standards,” and “does lawfully discriminate on the basis of religion. Therefore, the seminary expects members of its community to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.”
Fuller Theological Seminary is an evangelical, multi-denominational graduate institution with more than 3,500 students from 90 countries and 110 denominations.