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Second Student Expelled for Same-Sex Marriage Sues Seminary

Student Sues Seminary After Expulsion Over Same-Sex Marriage

A second Fuller Theological Seminary student expelled for a same-sex marriage has joined in a discrimination lawsuit against the school.

Nathan Brittsan, who is an American Baptist Churches USA minister as well as a Fuller student, was added Tuesday to the suit, originally filed by Joanna Maxon in November, Christianity Today reports. Both say they were expelled by the nondenominational evangelical Christian school when officials discovered they had same-sex spouses. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Fuller’s main campus is in Pasadena, Calif., but it also has satellite campuses and online programs.

The suit alleges that Fuller violated Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, a federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in education. President Barack Obama’s administration interpreted the law as covering discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but Donald Trump’s administration has taken the opposite stance. However, courts remain free to interpret the law as they see fit, and some have interpreted it in that inclusive fashion. All schools that receive federal funding must comply with Title IX, but many faith-based ones have received exemptions.

“It’s a very important case at this time in our nation’s history,” Paul Southwick, the attorney representing Maxon and Brittsan, told Christianity Today. “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.”

Fuller has a “sexual standards” policy stating that marriage is a “covenant union between one man and one woman” and believes “homosexual forms of explicit sexual conduct to be inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture.” The policy says the school “does lawfully discriminate on the basis of sexual conduct that violates its biblically based Community Standard Statement on Sexual Standards.”

Brittsan was informed in 2017, two days before he began his first quarter at the school, that he would not be welcome there because of his marriage to a man. Fuller officials said they learned of his marriage because of Brittsan’s request to change his name on school records, although he said he didn’t state the reason for the name change, the Pasadena Star-News reports. He still attended two days of classes and appealed his expulsion, but during the appeals process he was coerced into withdrawing from the seminary, the suit contends.

He said he joined the suit after seeing news coverage about Maxon's case. She was expelled in 2018 when she was nearly finished with her graduate degree. Most of her fellow students and her professors knew she was married to a woman, but when administrators learned of her marriage through financial aid forms, she was expelled from the school.

Maxon and Brittsan were both “lulled into a false sense of security” by the accepting atmosphere they found at Fuller, Southwick told the Star-News. “What Fuller has created is a community of diverse religious backgrounds,” he said. “That’s part of what attracts people to a place like Fuller. It’s not a Baptist seminary or a Catholic seminary — it’s interdenominational. ... The Fuller community, in general, is a place where Maxon and Brittsan can thrive. Unfortunately, there are a few administrators … who have taken this hard-line action against them.”

But a lawyer with the Becket Fund, which is representing the seminary, said the case is about religious freedom. “This case is about whether religious groups get to decide how to train their religious leaders, free from government entanglement,” Becket senior counsel Daniel Blomberg told the Star-News. “In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the First Amendment commits these kinds of issues to religious groups to decide, not the courts. A healthy separation of church and state demands nothing less.”

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