A new Title IX lawsuit has been filed against a theological seminary that allegedly expelled a lesbian student for being in a same-sex marriage. The lawsuit raises a host of some of the most important policy issues that changes to Title IX law have been meant to address.
Seminary Sued for Allegedly Expelling Student in Same-Sex Marriage
The Fuller Theological Seminary, a nondenominational seminary in Pasadena, California, was served with the Title IX claim by one of its former students. That lawsuit, which was filed in federal court in California, claims that the school expelled the female student for marrying another woman. The lawsuit argues that this violated her Title IX rights by discriminating against her sexual orientation.
Complicating matters is the fact that Fuller Seminary's student code explicitly states that the school “expects all members of its community… to abstain from what it holds to be unbiblical sexual practices.” This includes same-sex marriages or “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct.”
Lawsuit Touches on Numerous Policy Issues at Heart of Title IX
Like a lot of other laws in the U.S., Title IX aims to satisfy competing interests. They include:
- Protecting students and others from sexual misconduct
- Providing due process to those who have been accused
- Allowing schools to build a campus culture around their curricular interests
- Promoting equality without stepping on Free Speech rights
Most Title IX claims focus on the protection versus due process policy point. This particular lawsuit, though, pulls some of the other issues into play, as well.
Student Agreed to Code That She Is Now Suing Over
One of the most important and significant aspects of the lawsuit is that the alleged Title IX violation happened when the school enforced one of the rules explicitly laid out in its student policy. That policy, of course, was something that the student had agreed to when she enrolled.
Particularly because the Fuller Theological Seminary is a private school rather than a public one, this becomes important because the due process rights of students in private schools are largely dictated by their contractual rights under the student code.
Yet, here, the student is claiming that it is the federal Title IX law that should rule the case.
Where Is the Line Between Federal Law and School Culture?
Of course, colleges cannot explicitly allow and leave unsanctioned sexual assault when it happens on campus. However, when schools are open for the specific purpose of providing a particular type of education – like a seminary – when can rules against discrimination be enforced over fundamental aspects of that school's line of thought?
Fuller Seminary makes it abundantly clear that it thinks premarital sex is wrong, and that same-sex marriage is wrong. As a private institution, they have a First Amendment right to hold that belief.
Does Title IX entitle students who disagree with that belief – students who have signed a contract to abide by that belief system, no less – to pursue a federal lawsuit any time they're wronged?
Title IX Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento
Joseph D. Lento is a Title IX defense lawyer who represents students and faculty members accused of violating Title IX. Contact him online or call his law office at (888) 535-3686.