Another former Fuller Theological Seminary student who says he was expelled because of his same-sex marriage has joined a lawsuit alleging the nation’s largest interdenominational seminary violated anti-discrimination laws.
In the amended complaint filed Tuesday morning, Nathan Brittsan, an American Baptist Churches USA pastor, and Joanna Maxon, a former Fuller student who sued the school in November over a similar experience, ask for more than $1 million each in compensation.
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. Title IX bars federally funded educational programs from discrimination based on sex, though dozens of Christian schools have received exemptions.
“It’s a very important case at this time in our nation’s history,” said Paul Southwick, the attorney representing Maxon and Brittsan. “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 Becket Fund for Religious Liberty will represent Fuller. Becket specializes in the defense of religious liberty and has taken on numerous high profile cases, including the Supreme Court cases Burwell v. Hobby Lobby in 2014 and Holt v. Hobbs in 2015.
Becket’s lawyers have not yet reviewed the amended complaint and are consulting with Fuller about the next steps in the legal defense.
“The claims here are dangerous for faith-based institutions,” said Becket Fund attorney Daniel 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.”
Maxon’s original suit was filed in November. She was expelled in 2018 after administrators noticed her wife was listed on her tax returns. Maxon, who took mostly online classes, had completed more than three years of course work and was in her final semester.
Brittsan received his letter of dismissal in 2017, two days before beginning his first quarter. In the letter, a dean said administrators knew about Brittsan’s same-sex marriage because of his request to change his last name. Brittsan had not told the school why he wanted to change his last name in the request, but administrators knew he was part of an LGBT-affirming church.
Brittsan had also disclosed his recent marriage to another dean and a professor who spoke with him before the administration sent the letter. The suit alleges, “Nathan was not informed that this discussion was actually part of an initial inquiry or investigation by Fuller into Nathan’s perceived Community Standards violation.”
Brittsan attempted to appeal his expulsion twice, according to the lawsuit, and asked for his disciplinary procedure records at least five times.
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Source: Christianity Today