53-year-old Joanna Maxon was looking for ways to advance her career and started searching into graduate schools.
That’s when she decided to go to a religious graduate school in Pasadena as it has the combination of things she valued: her studies and her faith.
It was in 2015 when Maxon started taking classes for her theology degree. But after three years and only a few classes away from graduating, Maxon received a letter informing her that she had already been expelled for being married to a woman.
The mother-of-two, who lives with wife Tonya Minton, is suing Fuller Theological Seminary, alleging the institution “violated Title IX rules that forbid institutions from discriminating against students on the basis of sex,” according to Los Angeles Times.
The woman’s attorney, Paul Southwick, alleges the college also violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act and seeks compensation of $500,000 or more to cover fees and his client’s federally funded student loans.
He also said that because the college accepted federal aid and doesn’t have a religious exemption, Fuller must follow federal laws, including the Title IX.
The lawsuit stated: “Mrs. Maxon is a Christian woman who took her studies seriously. She worked diligently on the courses in her program. Her peers and professors respected and admired her. She deserved more than a cold letter dismissing her.”
Fuller Theological Seminary said in a statement: “As a historically multi-denominational seminary and a convening place for civil dialogue — with a commitment to academic freedom — we strive to serve the global Christian church in its various perspectives.
“We remain committed to these relationships in all their complexities while maintaining community standards and a statement of faith that apply to various areas of beliefs and behavior. Students are informed of and explicitly agree to abide by these standards when applying to the institution.”
Daniel Blomberg, a senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said to Christianity Today that the lawsuit could set a risky precedent for other religious institutions.
“The claims here are dangerous for faith-based institutions. 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 surrounding communities might find unpopular,” Blomberg said.
“We think that it’s unlikely that courts would accept these kinds of [plaintiff’s] arguments because they’re weak claims, but they’re dangerous.”
Southwick, who hopes the suit will change discriminatory policies so more people of the LGBTQ community can go to Christian schools, added: “It wasn’t just about money. It was about Fuller’s treating [LGBTQ students] with transparency. What’s happening with Joanna is going to keep happening more and more. Policies at these institutions have a real impact on people.”
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