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Ninth Circuit Takes Up Case of Two LGBTQ Fuller Seminary Students Expelled for Same Sex Unions

Published on Tuesday, November 30, 2021 | 10:30 am

Judges in the Ninth Circuit questioned lawyers regarding a sex standards policy at Fuller Seminary that resulted in the expulsion of two students in separate same-sex marriages.

Joanna Maxon and Nathan Brittsan were kicked out of Fuller Seminary in 2019 and 2017, respectively, after college officials discovered they were in same-sex marriages. They claim their civil rights were violated and they suffered emotional distress.

The lawsuit may be the first one filed by a student expelled from a U.S. institution of higher learning for being in a same-sex marriage and could carry larger implications for religious colleges and universities across the country.

However religious institutions appear to be entitled to some exemptions from Title IX nondiscrimination rules. The protection to those institutions is broad, some legal experts say.

A federal judge dismissed the lawsuit against the seminary in 2020, and concluded the Pasadena-based seminar did not violate Title IX, a follow up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to end discrimination in various fields based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin in the areas of employment and public accommodation.

The law states, “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 receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Some colleges have requested exemptions from the law, claiming religious freedom.

In 2020, Pasadena Now reported that Fuller had not formally applied for, or received a religious exemption from the requirements of Title IX. In itself, that does nort damage Fuller’s position, some legal experts say.

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.

Maxon and Brittsan received federal assistance to attend the school, which their lawyer claims subjects the school to Title IX guidelines.

In Jan, 2020 a lawyer representing the school said the case involving Fuller is “about whether religious groups get to decide how to train their religious leaders, free from government entanglement.”

At the hearing, lawyers were questioned over whether the seminary applied its sexual standards policy differently to homosexuals and heterosexuals, according to Courthouse News.

An attorney representing the seminary, claimed the students were expelled not just due to the seminary’s sexual standards policy, but also because “it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask these individuals to dissolve their unions.”

According to the attorney, the students “were going to be in permanent violation of community standards.”

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