by Christine Pasciuti
When Brandon Jenkins, a bright and promising applicant for entry into the radiation therapy program at Maryland’s Community College of Baltimore County, received a notice informing him that he was not selected for the fall 2013 term after completing his exam and interview process, he inquired further.
Jenkins had exceeded the minimum requirements for entry into the program and planned on reapplying for the next term. When he followed up with CCBC staff members to find out why he was not being admitted, he was told that he was not selected because, among other reasons, his chosen field is “not the place for religion.”
During his interview process with a five-person panel, Jenkins responded to the question, “What is the most important thing to you?” with the reply, “My God.”
The director and coordinator of radiation therapy, Adrienne Dougherty, told Jenkins: “I understand that religion is a major part of your life and that was evident in your recommendation letters, however, this field is not the place for religion.”
She further stated, “We have many patients who come to us for treatment from many different religions and some who believe in nothing at all. If you interview in the future, you may want to leave your thoughts and beliefs out of the interview process.”
The ACLJ (American Center for Law and Justice) is suing the university, asking for an injunction against it, demanding admittance for Jenkins into the program, and for damages to be paid to him for unplanned expenses he incurred while believing he would be a full-time student. As a result of being denied entry, he was forced to restart his business.
ACLJ Senior Counsel David French told the Christian Post that Dougherty’s comments were both “flatly illegal” and “bigoted,” noting his personal belief that the question posed to Jenkins – “What is most important in your life” – is not an academic question.
“It’s not related to the radiation therapy program,” he said. “They asked a question that went far beyond the bounds of the academic program itself, and they got an honest answer, from a Christian, about what’s most important to him; and then they discriminated against him on that basis. It’s absurd.”
Describing Jenkins as a “high-character individual” and “model citizen”, French argued, “Under what circumstance would answering that God is the most important thing in his life mean that he would be unable to treat people from other religions or from no religion? That was an assumption on the college’s part and had no basis on anything Jenkins said at any point during the interview process.”
French told CP that in all the years he’s been litigating religious liberty cases, never has he encountered one like Jenkins,’ where a university denies admission specifying an applicant’s religion as one of the reasons.
The Bill of Rights, contained in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
Advocates for the preservation of religious freedoms must constantly stay one step ahead of the rampant upswing in these types of discrimination cases, and like the ACLJ, must tackle the blatant distortions, abuses and misuses of the law before legal precedence is set, which would further release a floodgate of education discrimination incidents against Christians.
In another case back in 2006, pro-life associate professor Mike Adams applied for promotion to full professorship at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. His credentials included three teaching awards (one was Faculty Member of the Year) and more published peer-reviewed articles than most of his colleagues. Yet Adams was not only denied a promotion, but UNCW refused to provide a written explanation.
Adams believes that it was because he happens to be an evangelical Christian and a popular conservative author at Townhall.com. He is known for not mincing his words, particularly in his attacks on abortion, which can be delivered in a mocking and satirical manner.
More than seven years after Adams filed a lawsuit against the University of North Carolina-Wilmington for religious and political discrimination, he finally won his case in March. After years of litigation, a jury in a U.S. District Court concluded that, “… the University of North Carolina Wilmington retaliated against Dr. Adams by denying him a promotion in 2006 and they retaliated against him because they did not like the views he expressed in his books and columns and speeches,” according to Adams’s lawyer, Travis Barham. “Basically, they didn’t like what he said in his own time,” Barham told a local news station.
Meanwhile, up north in Canada, yet another controversial and potentially pivotal case is brewing for Trinity Western University, in Langley, B.C. Trinity, an evangelical Christian university, has as part of its community covenant, a requirement that all of its students, administrators and faculty abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Trinity’s staff and students voluntarily agree to adhere to the covenant, which is mandated for its university community and not for the whole of Canada.
At issue is Trinity’s endeavor to open a law school and obtain the necessary accreditation approvals from various law societies. The Law Society of Upper Canada has condemned the university’s covenant as “abhorrent”, which for Trinity’s law school graduates will mean they cannot practice law in Ontario. On April 24th, the benchers of the Law Society of Upper Canada declined the accreditation of TWU’s Law School.
In addition, Nova Scotia’s law society also condemned the covenant the very next day, but granted conditional approval for accreditation, provided that TWU drops the policy prohibiting same-sex intimacy. British Columbia law society is reviewing its previous approval for accreditation because a petition subsequently circulated, with enough votes to require the B.C. benchers to hold a special general meeting to consider a reversal of their decision.
Alberta, Saskatchewan and other provincial law societies have effectively adopted the original position of B.C. as well as the Federation of Law Societies, which favor accreditation.
What complicates matters is that a mobility agreement exists among all Canadian provincial law societies which permits graduates from an institution in one province to article and practice in another.
“Obviously, there are many other law schools that have different requirements, but why should Trinity be so brutally attacked and its students discriminated against because of their values?” asks author Jakki Jeffs of guelphmercury.com. “Why is this such an offence in a nation that prides itself on human rights, diversity and pluralism?”
The Globe and Mail published a piece last week on this topic, penned by one of their regular business columnists, Tony Wilson, who is a Vancouver lawyer and a bencher of the Law Society of British Columbia. Tony, a self-professed atheist, ruled along with 20 out of 26 other benchers in favor of approving accreditation for a law school at Trinity Western.
Wilson notes in his Globe and Mail article, “I voted the way I did because of something called the rule of law, which among other things, dictates that courts and administrative bodies like ours shouldn’t cherry pick the laws we like from the ones we don’t. I don’t believe we can choose to disregard the leading case on this issue just because we don’t like the case or we don’t like the covenant. From what I saw, I don’t think anyone liked the covenant.”
The leading case that Wilson is referring to in his comment goes back to 2001; Trinity Western University v. B.C. College of Teachers, a case still considered the law of Canada by some of Canada’s leading lawyers. The Supreme Court of Canada determined in 2001 that the B.C. College of Teachers could not deny accreditation of TWU’s teaching degree or graduates from such program because TWU insisted upon a similar covenant from its students. “For better or for worse” the Court said, “tolerance of divergent beliefs is a hallmark of a democratic society.”
Some suggest that the TWU 2001 B.C. Teachers ruling might be decided differently today, with the legalization of gay marriage in the Civil Marriage Act. Wilson believes that there are indications within the many legal opinions obtained by the B.C. law society on this matter that the Supreme Court would not reverse itself on that issue today.
In 2010, student Jennifer Keeton, pursuing counseling studies at Georgia’s Augusta State University, was expelled from the graduate program for honoring her disagreement with the same-sex lifestyle. In defense of her religious beliefs, she took the matter to court, subsequently losing the case in 2012.
According to TheBlaze.com, the university’s program apparently advised students that they couldn’t discriminate against others based on any indicators including sexual orientation. Keeton, citing her religious views, refused to change the manner in which she engaged with gay students and clients. Most likely, her religious beliefs played a role in how she related to those she was counseling, though it’s unclear exactly what Keeting said inside or outside of the classroom that caused the controversy.
The university initially placed her on probation, requiring her to follow a “remediation plan” to remain in good standing, which included sensitivity training, writing papers about tolerance and the lessons she had learned, and attending gay pride events. After Keeton refused to comply she was removed from the program.
The Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom represents Keeton and filed the initial lawsuit in 2010 against officials at Augusta State University. Former ADF Senior Counsel, David French, stated on speakupmovement.org, “Jennifer’s counseling professors have told her she must change her Christian beliefs to graduate, told her that she cannot share her faith with students even outside of class, and have imposed impossibly vague speech codes on her in an effort to implement a comprehensive program of thought reform.”
In 2000, Patrick Henry College opened its doors, and subsequently pursued accreditation. In 2002, the college won pre-accreditation from the American Academy for Liberal Education, but only after appealing a denial which was based in part on its creationist curriculum.
PHC was formed with the intent of becoming an elite evangelical college for home-schoolers, but soon after began struggling with high faculty turnover and questions about its commitment to offering a strong liberal arts education along with a conservative Biblical worldview.
In the spring of 2007, the college became a fully accredited institution when federally recognized Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools (TRACS) voted to award Patrick Henry accreditation. Though PHC’s founder Michael P. Farris called it “the biggest single day in the history of the college,” some students, alumni and faculty considered the stamp of approval a compromise for the school, as they were hoping for more of a liberal-arts-style accreditation. Two professors announced they would be leaving at the end of the academic year, and one year prior, the college saw the departure of five of the school’s 16 full-time professors, who said they felt constrained by limitations on academic freedom.
Balancing a broad liberal arts curriculum with a deeply religious world view is a challenge at many religious schools, said James Burtchaell, author of “The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities From Their Christian Churches.” This challenge has resulted in the secularization of many religious schools over the years.