The US’s largest interdenominational Christian seminary is embroiled in a second discrimination lawsuit over its expulsion of a student for being in a same-sex marriage.
Two former students, Nathan Brittsan and Joanna Maxon, are each suing the Fuller Theological Seminary for $1 million, claiming that the college violated anti-discrimination laws.
The suit is believed to be the first of its kind, and its outcome could have wider implications for Christian colleges and universities who receive government funding.
Maxon launched legal action in November, saying that disciplinary proceedings were initiated against her when the school’s financial aid office flagged information from her tax returns which showed she had a same-sex spouse.
On January 7 she was joined by Brittsan, who is also a baptist pastor. He alleges that he was dismissed from the Christian school in 2017 when administrators learned of his same-sex marriage from a request to change his surname.
Brittsan later disclosed his marriage to another dean and a professor, but the suit says that he “was not informed that this discussion was actually part of an initial inquiry or investigation by Fuller into Nathan’s perceived community standards violation”.
The seminary’s community standards state 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”. It adds that premarital, extramarital, and homosexual sex are “inconsistent with the teaching of scripture”.
But even if the school is able to prove that Brittsan and Maxon engaged in the prohibited form of sexual conduct, the lawsuit argues that it had no right to discriminate against them under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act.
While certain religious colleges are eligible to apply for exemptions from Title IV, Fuller has not received such an exemption.
In addition to this, the information on Maxon’s tax returns was protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits the data being shared without the student’s consent or used for something the student didn’t authorise.
When Brittsan twice appealed his expulsion, the seminary actually disputed his enrolment. When he requested to see his disciplinary records, which were needed for him to appeal to the school’s Board of Trustees, the seminary disputed that they were required to release the records.
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Brittsan brought his complaint to the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, but he still hasn’t seen his own disciplinary records.
Fuller’s attorneys have two weeks to respond to the complaint, and are expected to ask the court to dismiss the case.