Constitutional Abstention

11 January 2006

In a lawsuit filed last month in Georgia, a 10th grade student, Jessica Bradley, and her father aresuing a private Christian high school, Covenant Christian Academy, for expelling Bradley for “sexual immorality” after the teenage girl kissed another girl at an off-campus slumber party last spring. Though none of the other girls involved in the incident were disciplined, and Bradley maintained a high grade-point average, the school responded to the lawsuit this week by saying it had a First Amendment right to expel any student who violated “the spirit of the school standards” under “ecclesiastical abstention,” which protects churches from any court interference in the conduct of its internal politics. Apart from the high financial stakes of the case — Bradley and her family, which have since moved to Pennsylvania, are seeking $1 million in damages — the decision could set a precedent by allowing religious schools to declare a constitutional right to expel any homosexual students based on the school’s stated beliefs. Predictably, the same complaints that surface in most public school church/state cases are arising already, with commentors at World magazine accusing “homosexual advocacy groups” of bankrupting schools with anti-religion lawsuits.

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