Court Rules that Religious School Has Right to Expel “Suspected Lesbians”

by Cara on January 30, 2009

in assholes, bigotry, courts, discrimination, education and schools, homophobia, LGBTQ, patriarchy, religious fanaticism, sexual exploitation and harassment, social conservatives

In 2006, two teenage girls were expelled from California Lutheran High School on suspicion of their being lesbians. That’s right — though expelling students because they actually were lesbians would have been a gross violation of civil rights, this took it a step further by expelling the two students merely on a guess.

Now, amazingly, the California  4th District Court of Appeals has ruled that the school had every right to do so.

In response to that suit, an appeals court decided this week that the private religious school was not a business and therefore did not have to comply with a state law that prohibits businesses from discriminating. A lawyer for the girls said Tuesday that he would ask the California Supreme Court to overturn the unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal.

The appeals court called its decision “narrow,” but lawyers on both sides of the case said it would protect private religious schools across California from such discrimination suits.

Kirk D. Hanson, who represented the girls, said the “very troubling” ruling would permit private schools to discriminate against anyone, as long as the schools used their religious beliefs as justification.

“It is almost like it could roll back 20 to 30 years of progress we have made in this area,” said the San Diego attorney. “Basically, this decision gives private schools the license to discriminate.”

Yes, a license to discriminate.  That’s exactly what this ruling does.  As so often happens in this country, “freedom of religion” has been falsely interpreted to mean “the right to impose my religion on other people and use it as an excuse for my bigotry — even when I’m not following tenants as simple as the Golden Rule myself.”

The school also “outed” the girls to their parents (whether factually or not), and made sure that the rumors of their sexual relationship with each other got around, with the expulsion acting as a “confirmation” (again, whether factual or not).  Even better, the girls were also sexually harassed by their principal in the course of his determining whether his suspicions about their lesbian status were valid:

In addition to their discrimination claim, the girls complained that the school invaded their privacy and detained them unlawfully. The girls complained the principal sat “very close” to them and asked them if they were bisexual, if they had kissed each other, and whether they had done anything “inappropriate,” the court said.

Mary Roe said, “He got very close to me and he said, ‘Have you ever touched [Jane Doe] in . . . any inappropriate ways? And he looked me up and down when he asked that.”

But the court said there was no evidence that the principal had a prurient interest in the girls.

“It is hard to imagine how he could have determined whether they had a homosexual relationship without asking the questions that he in fact asked,” wrote Richli, appointed to the court by former Gov. Pete Wilson.

Well, could Richli have missed the point any more?

I fully agree with her that the principal couldn’t have determined the nature of the girls’ relationship without asking them overtly sexual questions.  Of course, he didn’t have leer at them while he did it, but the questions would have still need to have been asked.

Which is precisely the point.  If you can’t determine the answer to a question without sexually harassing someone, you have no right to ask it.  Plain and simple.  And so, the answer to these questions were none of the principal’s business whatsoever.  He had no right at all to ask them.

Except that now,  legally, he does.

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{ 31 comments }

1 Lemur January 30, 2009 at 1:49 pm

Good Gaia that’s horrifying. No wonder home-schooling is on the rise. Public schools are, unfortunately, lacking, now private schools get to discriminate in the most screwed ways.
To quote Buffy: “Had you considered homeschooling? You know it’s not just for crazy religious people anymore.”
Obviously this is because said crazies decided it would be more efficient to just take over the policies of schools, instead.

2 queen emily January 30, 2009 at 7:03 pm

Are you now or have you ever been a lesbian?

Suspected? What is this bullshit?

Actually, in Australia, anti-discrimination laws cover belief–if you are suspected of being gay, lesbian or bisexual here and trans (in some states, but not mine goddamit) but aren’t, but are fired for that belief, then you are still protected. Because it’s the discriminatory actions that count FFS.

3 CableGirl January 30, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Just out of curiosity… I know that the ruling said the schools weren’t businesses and therefore not subject to laws restricting businesses, but do the religious schools of California get any state funding? I know they do here. If they get any public funding I can’t imagine that this ruling can hold… NOt that it should anyway.

4 SunlessNick January 30, 2009 at 9:41 pm

Yuck is pretty much my whole response to that.

I know that the ruling said the schools weren’t businesses and therefore not subject to laws restricting businesses, but do the religious schools of California get any state funding?

I bet they get funding from the families who send their kids there. Sounds like a business to me.

5 karak January 30, 2009 at 10:00 pm

If the schools don’t get funding from the state, they can chuck out anyone for whatever reason they deem fit, including suspected race, suspected weight, suspected illness, suspected parental careers, and suspected religion.

That’s one reason parents send their children to private schools–so “certain kinds of people” can’t get in. It’s legal, sadly.

6 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 4:15 pm

While I don’t agree with discrimination on any level and I certainly don’t agree with what this school did…I have to say I don’t agree with some of what you wrote.

As so often happens in this country, “freedom of religion” has been falsely interpreted to mean “the right to impose my religion on other people and use it as an excuse for my bigotry — even when I’m not following tenants as simple as the Golden Rule myself.”

The thing is, this is a private religious school. Of course they are going to impose religion. If someone doesn’t like that…don’t enroll in a private religious school. Freedom cuts both ways. The state shouldn’t be able to tell religious schools how to practice their religion.

7 Cara January 31, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Of course they are going to impose religion. If someone doesn’t like that…don’t enroll in a private religious school.

Is it really that simple for gay or lesbian teenagers who have religious and likely homophobic parents?

8 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 4:23 pm

Is it really that simple for gay or lesbian teenagers who have religious and likely homophobic parents?

No, but even if a child attends public school that child will be confronted with things he or she doesn’t agree with. Basically, it sucks to be a kid because you are legally property of your parents and they can do whatever they want.

I’m saying that religions should be free to believe whatever they want…just as individuals should. It is a religious school. Their actions shouldn’t be surprising. That’s like being shocked when the boy scouts kick out a boy who admits being gay.

9 Cara January 31, 2009 at 4:30 pm

Religions should be able to believe whatever they want, yes. If they want to think that lesbians are the scum of the earth, it makes them shitty people but it’s their right. The question is whether they’re allowed to do whatever they want based on their beliefs. No, I’m not at all surprised by their actions. But I don’t think that they should be legal.

10 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 4:55 pm

In the confines of their own private school I think they should be allowed. It isn’t as though these kids legally had to go to that school. Had this been a public school, the administrators should be fired immediately. But that isn’t the case. I don’t support their beliefs, but I support their right to believe them.

11 Cara January 31, 2009 at 6:06 pm

And I’m still trying to figure out why you think that the right to have a belief and the right to act on that belief is the same thing. To use the extreme example, I believe in someone’s religious right to believe in human sacrifice. I don’t believe in their right to actually sacrifice humans, though. I believe in someone’s right to think that abortion is murder. I don’t believe that they have the right to then act on that belief by stopping those supposed murders with clinic violence. I believe in the right to think that polygamous marriage is the one true way. I don’t support the right to force children into marriage.

How is this any different? I support the right to believe that homosexuality is wrong. I don’t support the right to sexually harass and then expel gay or lesbian people (whether actual or suspected).

12 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 6:46 pm

This is different because people voluntarily enroll in that school. If you don’t like the rules, you don’t go to that school.

Everyone has the freedom to not attend that school.

Your examples aren’t correct at all because you are talking about people imposing their beliefs on others against their will. Those would only be parallel examples if children were kidnapped off the streets and forced to attend this school. That didn’t happen. In the school situation, the kids were voluntarily enrolled in a private school. That isn’t the same thing at all.

13 Cara January 31, 2009 at 6:54 pm

So would you support the right to practice the belief of human sacrifice if the human being sacrificed also follows the religion and agrees to it?

What about my example of child marriage? What if the child “agrees”? Or, as is almost always the case, the child’s parent agrees? You said yourself that children have no rights, and their parents get to decide for them. Why does marrying them off cross the line, but sending them to a school that will sexually harass them and discriminate against them not?

14 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 7:03 pm

You are using extreme examples to justify yourself. It is no different than people saying gay marriage will lead to bestiality.

This issue has nothing to do with child marriage, human sacrifice, or any of those other things. There is no need for further straw men.

I don’t agree with the right attempting to impose their beliefs on me…so consequently, I don’t attempt to impose my beliefs on others. Even if I am “correct” and they aren’t. If an action is wrong…it is wrong no matter who does it or how good their intentions are. You stated that you thought the school’s actions should be illegal. And why? Because you disagree with them. You are using the exact same argument that those who disagree with gay marriage use: I don’t like it, therefore it should be illegal.

15 Cara January 31, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Either you do believe that private institutions have the right to enact out their belief systems, horrendous though they may be, or you don’t. If you can’t back up your belief system once it’s challenged with examples of where that belief system leads, that’s your problem.

And no, my argument is that it’s discriminatory and oppressive towards a marginalized group, therefore it should be illegal. If you don’t see the difference between that and “I don’t like it,” I don’t have anything else to say to you.

16 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 7:42 pm

…And by telling a religion they can only practice in a way that you agree with…that, too, is discriminatory. How is it that you don’t see that fact?

Rudeness and extremist straw men argument aren’t necessary. I have not been in any way rude or condescending to you and I would like the same respect in return.

Human sacrifice is murder. Murder is illegal. A gathering that doesn’t want certain other around isn’t illegal. Whether it is a church, a private club, or the boy scouts. You might find it unethical, but it isn’t illegal. To compare the two is extremist and, frankly, ludicrous.

17 Cara January 31, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Actually, discrimination is illegal. Which is why an employer can’t refuse to hire a black person. Apparently you think schools are different — or you disagree with both. Either way, if you think I’m extremist and ludicrous, that’s fine. But you don’t get to call me such and then say that you’re not being rude and condescending, or behave as though I’m doing the same to you by simply making an argument. Extremist and ludicrous me is done with the conversation.

18 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 9:27 pm

I never called you extremist and ludicrous. I said your argument was. Very different. The words are quite plain in my comments. And yes, you have been condescending to me.

Discrimination isn’t always illegal. Look at Augusta National Golf Club home of the Masters Golf tournament. No female members. Private clubs and religious institutions can limit themselves to whomever the want. Like it or not, that is the law. To turn around and chastise them for sticking to their very publicly stated beliefs is ludicrous. It would be like a African-American getting up in arms because he was denied entrance to the KKK.

Note: I didn’t say YOU were ludicrous. I said “To turn around and chastise them for sticking to their very publicly stated beliefs is ludicrous.”

19 Bene January 31, 2009 at 9:44 pm

The law or not, it’s completely outrageous to kick out two students that just seemed gay. To forcibly remove these girls from school and friends and activities because of a vague notion about their sexual orientation, regardless of the belief system, is appalling. To refuse to educate otherwise average, non-disruptive students…yeah.

This hits home because this bi person was raised conservative Lutheran and can entirely see this situation having happened to me, had I gone to private school. It makes me fucking sick.

20 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Of course it’s outrageous. We shouldn’t live in a world where it makes any difference at all what someone’s sexuality might be, is, or seems to be. That being said, the school is a private religious school and is within their rights to allow or not allow whomever it wants.

The Congressional Black Caucus doesn’t allow white members. Is that discrimination, too? Shall we take them to court?

21 Cara January 31, 2009 at 10:20 pm

J.D., I already said that I’m done engaging with you, but I’m not going to let you sit back and pull “reverse-racism” bullshit as though discriminating against marginalized groups and creating a safe space/platform for marginalized groups are the same thing. That is ludicrous, as I’d expect anyone who identifies as leftist to know. Cut it out. Now.

22 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 10:27 pm

I in no way pulled “reverse-racism” bullshit what I pointed out is that there are many organizations that only allow certain members. Whether it is a private club (e.g. Augusta), a congressional group (e.g. The Congressional Black Caucus), or a private school (e.g. the one being discussed). It cannot be discrimination in one sense, but not in another. That’s what freedom is. Just as the members of the CBC are allowed to decide who can or cannot be a member, the school at hand has the freedom to decide who will or will not attend their private school.

To even subtly infer that I am a racist is offensive. That you would stoop to that is just sad.

23 Cara January 31, 2009 at 10:30 pm

Get off my blog, J.D. I’m tired of having you twist my words and have so many very basic concepts (like “discrimination”) go over your head. (Yup, now I’m being condescending.) You’re on my last fucking nerve. Find something better to do.

24 Renee January 31, 2009 at 10:32 pm

@J.D. How dare you bring up the Black Caucus into this debate. In case you have not noticed that is a minority group and every other segment of the government is white run and controlled. That is far from racist. This is about a group with privilege, in this case heterosexual excluding another for being different than the norm. This is how privilege works and though it may be legal it certainly isn’t morally correct. This is exactly why we have such a dissonance of worth and value in our society.
One last thing before you accuse anyone of being condescending I suggest you read back your own commentary. Cara has been more than fair by allowing you to spout your nonsense in the first place.

25 J.D. January 31, 2009 at 10:42 pm

@Renee. I never said the Black Caucus was racist. Not at all.

What I said, numerous times, is that freedom extends to all…not just the ones we agree with. You have to take the good with the bad. If we don’t extend the same rights to everyone…even the ones we disagree with…then it isn’t freedom.

A private religious school has the right to allow whomever it wants. And not allow whomever it wants. Now, if it accepts government money..then they shouldn’t be allowed. I don’t know how this particular school works.

@Cara. I apologize. I reread my earlier comment and realized I typed “To compare the two is extremist and, frankly, ludicrous.” whereas I should have made it clearer that what I meant was I felt the argument was extremist and ludicrous. Not the person making the argument. It was very poorly worded and I can see how it could be read that way. It was not my intention to insult or offend you and I apologize if I did.

26 Anna February 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

I’m going to choose to ignore the expulsion of *actual* lesbians because despicable though that is, the fact is here they may not have even BEEN lesbians.

I went to a private, Christian, all-girls school. Sexual experimentation with each other was rife and extremely common. More than that, even those that weren’t went around holding hands and giving friendly hugs/kisses to each other. People walking up the drive to school holding hands was a sign of completely asexual best-friendship. A lot of the girls there had very short haircuts and dressed masculine when we had non-uniform days.

I’d like to know exactly where this ruling stops. Best friends that hold hands suspected of being lesbians? Girls with short haircuts who display ‘unfeminine’ behaviour?

It scares me, not so much for the expulsion for homosexuality, appalling though that is – it’s the expulsion for *suspected* homosexuality. It seems to me like it will completely do away with any individual females who don’t want to fit into their traditional view of what it is to be a ‘lady’ – those who are overtly affectionate, those who don’t dress ‘properly’.
And noone can defend that. Nobody can defend the threat of ruining an education, a career, a life – because it goes against me continually, four years on, that I have ‘left’ three educational establishments – because they don’t act like perfect little ladies.

27 Asada February 2, 2009 at 9:52 am

I call foul play,
You don’t just put your school (a private school no less) in the news negatively and disrupt two streams of income over who wants to sleep with whom. No one is telling the other story.

28 Asada February 2, 2009 at 10:03 am

@ JD,

I went to a religious school. I could never in my life imagine my school throwing out students on suspected of being gay. Never. My school was too dignified to do such a thing to its reputation.

Snakes get in, believe me, but we would never blame the students. ONCE a music teacher was suspected of “fooling around” with a student, it was the teacher who left before they fired and sued.

My school was honest, they taught evolution and honest/accurate sex ed. More credit to them, they taught that homosexuals deserve fair treatment and that God alone should judge them. They taught compassion.

So don’t spin this BS about private schools rights. They have the right to educate kids and do it to the damn best of their ability. NO LESS!!!

29 Genevieve February 4, 2009 at 11:46 am

Besides, as I know from experience, where to go to school is often up to a student’s parents, not the student hirself. If you’ve got a religious parent telling hir son or daughter that sie must go to a religious school, then it is not the student’s choice. And all the talk about “schools having the freedom to do what they want” doesn’t change a damn thing when the student now has to deal with homophobic crap at school and home due to expulsion on grounds of “suspected lesbianism.”

30 Kit February 9, 2009 at 4:44 am

I know I’m a bit late to the game, but I don’t understand why JD’s point was skipped over like that, just because the language was a little mean. Private groups have the right to let in who they want in and keep out who they want out, because they’re private. It works the same whether they’re the KKK, the Black Caucus, the Boy Scouts, all those weird Elk Clubs or whatever that are for men, the Masons, your knitting circle, whatever. It doesn’t matter why the group is there or what they’re doing; they don’t have to let in anyone they don’t want to, because they’re privately run. It’s not a judgment call on any of the groups, because they all get the same rights. Whether you think they’re cool guys who are doing a great thing (ie the Congressional Black Caucus) or assholes who are trying to destroy the world (ie the KKK), or just closed-minded (ie a fundamentalist church).

Think of all the churches who whine that if gay marriage is allowed, they’ll have to marry gay people in their church. Well of course they won’t have to marry gay people, they’re a church. They don’t have to do or allow in anything or anyone they don’t want. And religious schools are really just an extension of a church. They provide education, yes, but they’re still a religious institution, and a private institution. If they’re not receiving federal money, they get to make their own rules as far as they let in or keep out.

We might not like it, and think it’s unfair and closed-minded and stupid, but it’s still their right to do it as long as they’re a private institution.

Now, if you disagree, I’d appreciate hearing your reasons, but I didn’t see anything above that really disproved JD’s statements.

31 eloriane February 13, 2009 at 10:49 pm

I’m a little late to the game, but I think an appropriate analogy would be, as following: let’s say a student applied to a private high school, and was accepted, and then when the student showed up, people discovered that he or she was black. Would they be allowed to then expel the student, by saying that blackness is a curse from god (which is I think similar to the Mormon view) and therefore claiming it went against their religion to allow black students?

I mean, maybe it is legal, I don’t know. But it shouldn’t be.

I also think that, in terms of private groups, it depends on the purpose of the group. If you’re creating a group like the Black Caucus, for example, you have the right to exclude those who are not black because it’s outside your scope, as it were. It would be like trying to join a knitting group but intending to play Xbox the whole time instead– it’s not included in the purpose of the group. But the “scope” of a school is too broad for that kind of exclusion; the purpose is to educate high schoolers, so you can turn people away for not being high schoolers, but not for simply failing to be the kind of high schooler you want.

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