Attorney General Knudsen, 15 other states file brief supporting religious liberty in seminary case
HELENA– Montana Attorney General and 15 other state attorneys general filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit Maxon v. Fuller Theological Seminary case to support religious liberty and the rights of conscience for citizens and institutions of faith while upholding the of church and state, he announced today.
At issue in the case is whether religious schools can admit and exclude students based upon their religious beliefs and resultant codes of conduct. The brief argues in favor of the position of Fuller that the First Amendment protects the rights of religious schools to select and govern students in a manner that conforms with their religious beliefs without government interference.
“Freedom of conscience is one of the bedrock guarantees of the First Amendment. Without it, our pluralistic society is imperiled. Even as the Supreme Court has blazed new trails in the areas of sex and marriage, it has reaffirmed that sincere religious beliefs must be respected and protected,” the brief stated. “Any ruling from this Court must recognize that the First Amendment protects the autonomy of religious schools to govern their students in a way that is consistent with their sincerely held religious tenets.”
The plaintiffs in the case sued Fuller because they were dismissed from the seminary after they had knowingly violated the school’s community standards that they had accepted as terms of enrollment by entering into a same-sex marriage. They argued that because Fuller indirectly received distributed federal student loan funds used to pay students’ tuition, expelling them was a violation of Title IX. Tuition for non-completed classes was refunded.
The U.S. District Court for the Central District of California dismissed the claims against Fuller in October 2020, finding that Fuller qualified for the religious exemption from Title IX pursuant to the U.S. Department of Education’s Religious Freedom Rule.
Fuller Theological Seminary has the first amendment right to define what it means to be a member of its faith. Disputes over marriage and sexuality are fundamental theological questions that should be left to religious organizations to decide for themselves, not the government.
Students who attend religious institutions do so voluntarily and have adequate notice of the schools’ religious tenets and codes of conduct when they apply and enroll. They have thousands of choices when it comes to higher education and are not forced to attend institutions where the codes of conduct conflict with their own religious or moral beliefs, the brief notes.
The other states signing onto the brief are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia.