Two students are suing Fuller Theological Seminary, alleging it has violated anti-discrimination laws for expelling them once learning that they are married to people of the same sex.
The lawsuit filed on behalf of Nathan Brittsan, an associate pastor at Grace Baptist Church in San Jose, California, and Joanna Maxon – both graduate students pursuing their Masters of Divinity – argues that Fuller Theological Seminary’s standards do not “prohibit same-sex dating relationships or same-sex civil marriages,” the case states, according to Religion News Service (RNS). It also contends that neither of the students were asked if they engaged in “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct,” which is prohibited.
Government not to interfere in Church business
In the face of the students’ claims, all students are called upon in the admission process to abide by the school’s biblical code of morality.
“When students apply to Fuller Theological Seminary, they agree to adhere to a wide swath of biblically based Christian ethics by giving written consent to abide by the seminary’s community standards as a continuing condition of enrollment,” Becket Law informed. “This collective agreement shapes the worldwide ethos of Fuller and includes upholding the belief that God created marriage to be the permanent covenant between only one man and one woman, and that sexual union must be reserved for that relationship. The seminary’s community standards are clear that students are to abstain from sexual conduct outside of this sacred marriage covenant.”
Brittsan said he was surprised to receive his letter of dismissal because he counted on Fuller’s reputation for leaning on toward left on social issues.
“I knew that they really were progressive – especially on issues like immigration and racial relations,” he shared, according to RNS. “I just felt like there were a lot of ways they were being a very prophetic voice for the evangelical community, and I thought that their progressiveness extended a little further.”
He received a letter from the seminary informing him that he had violated Fuller’s community standard – Bible-based guidelines that reserved sex for marriage, which is defined as “covenant union between one man and one woman.”
“The seminary believes premarital, extramarital and homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture,” Fuller’s community standards state. “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.”
Becket Senior Counsel Daniel Blomberg – whose law firm specializes in religious liberty – is representing Fuller Seminary in the lawsuit and is concerned that the outcome of this case can have dire consequences for religious groups.
"The claims here are dangerous for faith-based institutions," Blomberg told CBN News. “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.”
Maxon’s pro-LGBT attorney, Paul Southwick, filed the complaint in the original lawsuit in November, contending that the school is guilty of a Title IX violation because Fuller receives federal funding.
“I filed a Title IX lawsuit because they have been expelled for [being in] a same-sex marriage,” Southwick told The Christian Post (CP) late last year. “The other cases I’ve taken on have dealt with gender identity discrimination or related to sexual conduct involving non-married LGBTQ students.”
He says an ever-increasing number of lawsuits like this will arise and called for seminary officials to stop receiving federal funding.
“With the legalization of same-sex marriage, institutions like Fuller will be encountering more and more students who are in same-sex marriages – particularly among graduate student populations,” he continued. “[If Fuller wants to keep upholding biblical codes of conduct for its students, then they must] refrain from accepting public money and should not offer its services to the general public.”
Title IX – which was passed in 1972 – puts specific restrictions on institutions that receive federal funding.
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,” Title IX reads.
Confusing the issue?
However, Blomberg says this is a “very important case” because the main issue is much bigger.
“This case is about whether or not the government can interfere with a religious organization’s ability to train its leadership,” Blomberg said. “It’s 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.”
He said it can change have an adverse effect across the religious community.
“It’s a very dangerous attempt,” Blomberg added. It’s a very dangerous argument.”
The legal expert also insists the students did not get their stories straight.
“[Fuller did not expel Brittsan, but rather it] ultimately didn’t allow him to matriculate into the program because it became clear he wouldn’t be able to meet the community standards,” Blomberg stressed. “[Maxon kept the credit hours she completed and Fuller refunded her for any of the classes that started] after she revealed that she was violating the community standards.”