An evangelical student group has sued Penn State University and university president Graham B. Spanier, claiming the school's policies could force the group to accept non-Christian or gay students into leadership positions. A lawsuit on behalf of DiscipleMakers was recorded in the U.S. district court in Harrisburg on Tuesday, said Tim Tracey, an attorney for the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, which is representing DiscipleMakers.
DiscipleMakers has 40 to 60 student members and has been meeting since the beginning of the fall semester, Tracey said. He said university policy requires that all student groups agree to abide by the school's nondiscrimination policy, which covers religion and sexual orientation.
Although Tracey said all students are welcome to join and participate in DiscipleMakers, the group believes its leaders should adhere to the group's religious beliefs. "They really want their officers and leaders to be people who agree with their statement of faith and who can support the organization's cause. They feel like, 'Well, we really do discriminate on the basis of religious creed because we require our officers to agree to a specific creed,"' Tracey said. "Included in that, they believe that the Bible prohibits sexual conduct between persons of the same sex, so they feel like they have to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation as well."
Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, the university e-mailed a statement to students disputing DiscipleMakers' claims, saying: "Penn State has not intervened in the officer selection process for any student group in the past, and has no intention to do so." Said Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon: "They are interpreting our policies differently than we interpret them and different than we enforce them." He said university officials told DiscipleMakers last week that the school would not interfere with the group's selection of officers.
But Tracey said the university's assurance isn't enough. He said policy itself should be changed. "The university's response so far has kind of been, 'Trust us, it won't be a problem,' but they've been unwilling to make an expressed exemption," Tracey said.