Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Court Rules Lutheran School Can Expel Lesbians

A California Appeals Court has ruled that California Lutheran High School was within its rights when it expelled two girls who had posted about their sexual love for each other on their MySpace pages. Although California's Unruh Civil Rights Act forbids discrimination by businesses, the court ruled that the school was not a business. And while state law forbids anti-gay bias in public schools, this is only applicable to public schools. California Lutheran High School posts the Statement of Belief of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod on its website. The Fourth District Court of Appeals ruled using the California Supreme Court decision in Curran v. Mount Diablo Council of the Boy Scouts of America, which upheld the right of private organizations to not allow new members on the basis of sexual orientation.

Here's the story in the San Francisco Chronicle today:
A private religious high school can expel students it believes are lesbians because the school isn't covered by California civil rights laws, a state appeals court has ruled.

Relying on a 1998 state Supreme Court ruling that allowed the Boy Scouts to exclude gays and atheists, the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Bernardino said California Lutheran High School is a social organization entitled to follow its own principles, not a business subject to state anti-discrimination laws.

"The whole purpose of sending one's child to a religious school is to ensure that he or she learns even secular subjects within a religious framework," Justice Betty Richli said in the 3-0 ruling, issued Monday.

As with the Boy Scouts, she said, the primary function of the school is to instill its values in young people, who are told of its policies when they enroll.

Kirk Hanson, a lawyer for the two girls, said he was disappointed and would talk to them about a possible appeal to the state Supreme Court.

According to the court, he said, "if you're a religious school, you can discriminate on any basis you want."

He also noted that all children must attend school, either public or private, and said schools serve different purposes from a voluntary organization like the Boy Scouts.

John McKay, a lawyer for California Lutheran, said he was pleased the court recognized that "a religious school is not a business, and the purpose of a religious school is to teach Christian values."

Any state law that required the school to admit gays or lesbians would violate the school's freedom of expression and religion, McKay said.

The ruling is the first to consider a religious school's status under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act, which forbids discrimination by businesses and was amended in 2005 to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. State education law also forbids anti-gay bias, but that law applies only to public schools.

The girls were juniors at the high school in Wildomar (Riverside County) when the principal, Gregory Bork, summoned them to his office in September 2005 and questioned them separately about their sexual orientation and whether they loved each other. The principal acted after another student reported postings on the girls' MySpace pages.

Bork suspended the girls based on their answers, and the school's directors expelled them a month later.

The girls, who later graduated from another high school, have not been identified and have not discussed their sexual orientation, Hanson said. Their suit said the school had no right to dismiss them because of its perception that they were lesbians.

The court acknowledged that past rulings have interpreted the Unruh Act's definition of businesses broadly, to include a Boys' Club, the Rotary Club and a private golf club that let the public use its facilities.

But the school differs from those institutions, the court said, because the main reason for its existence is the religious message it seeks to instill in its students.


now said...

It should be mentioned that there are three major Lutheran groups in the US: ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America), Missouri Synod, and Wisconsin Synod. The ELCA is the most liberal: they ordain women and acknowledge the possibility that the creation story(ies) in Genesis may be myth. The Missouri Synod does not ordain women, and their interpretation of scripture is very literal. The Wisconsin Synod is fundamentalist.

All three groups discriminate against people who are gay. But, it is not surprising that the school who did this belongs to the Wisconsin Synod.

Perpetua said...

Hi now,
Thank you for sharing your knowledge about the different Lutheran groups. What is the difference between "very literal" and "fundamentalist"?

now said...

Good question. Maybe there is a continuum for people's capacities to understand myth. Literalists treat myth like it is science or fact - and therefore miss the depth of a story's meaning. A fundamentalist is an extreme literalist who seems to try to fit non-related passages together as if they belong in a story and then treat the composite literally. Example: Hall Lyndey's "Late Great Planet Earth."

The Underground Pewster said...

Extreme literalist=fundamentalist, Very literal, literal, vaquely literal...? Oh dear, where to begin? I won't because it would go further off topic.

I have wondered what will happen as we encounter more Islamic (or pick your religion) schools that have strong moral codes; moral codes that may come in conflict with existing secular legal codes.

The fact that a school is privately run and paid for by the parents does allow the liberty of applying and teaching these moral codes at the institution. There are a number of scenarios we can imagine where the state might step in and say "No, no don't teach that." Does this instance reach the point where the state should step in?

This court, and I, vote "No."