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  • Christian College Expels Student After Learning of Her Same-sex Marriage

    “The honeymoon phase is over” has a whole new meaning for former Southwestern Christian University student, Christian Minard. Ms. Minard married her same-sex partner in Albuquerque, New Mexico in March 2014. Although she was not expecting a congratulatory card from her Christian College, she was surprised to return from her honeymoon to a letter of expulsion from her school on July 9, 2014. Minard, who belongs to an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation in Oklahoma City, is a Christian, but her decision to marry her partner, Kadyn Parks, put her at odds with the school’s lifestyle covenant.

    Southwestern Christian University, located in Bethany, Oklahoma is reportedly affiliated with the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. The College allegedly requires students to agree and sign a lifestyle covenant that states that students may be required to withdraw for violating certain provisions of the covenant, including prohibitions on “homosexual behavior,” harassment, sexual misconduct, pornography, alcohol, tobacco and other “sins.” It was Christian Minard’s admitted violation of this covenant that prompted the school to expel her a semester short of her graduation.  The expulsion letter was allegedly sent by Brad Davis, the school’s vice president of student life, and cited the lifestyle covenant violation as the reason for her expulsion. He wrote, “I was informed that you recently married someone of the same sex and saw a few pictures from Facebook…As the Vice President of Student Life, I have to uphold the Lifestyle Covenant of SCU and confront you with our position. Due to this recent even you will not be able to attend SCU in the future.”

    University Academic Vice President and Provost Connie Sjoberg has confirmed that Ms. Minard was no longer a student of the University. However, she is prohibited from discussing the details of Ms. Minard’s expulsion without the student’s permission because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, a federal law that prohibits colleges from disclosing information about students, even to parents. She supported the University’s decision by stating, “We are committed to our founding principles and our lifestyle covenant.”

    Ms. Minard is troubled by what she believes to be  inconsistent enforcement of the University’s lifestyle covenant. She admitted to violating the code’s lifestyle principal, but noted that many students violate different provisions of the code without facing consequences. She was allegedly not afforded a hearing before the school decided to expel her. Further, Ms. Minard is unaware how the school learned about her recent marriage. She explained that she is not friends with any students at the school and her Facebook account had pictures of her with her partner for years before her expulsion without ever facing consequences. She expressed feeling singled out because of her choice to be a “married lesbian.” Besides the emotional effect of the expulsion, Ms. Minard is concerned about how her credits will transfer to another public university. She believes this recent expulsion may set her back from graduating because her elective credits will not transfer and there is not a similar program at any nearby university.

    Despite these alleged inconveniences to Ms. Minard, the University’s decision would likely not be found to violate any civil rights laws because they are established as a private religious institution. The constitutional right to freely exercise their religion as a private institution would shield the university from a discrimination suit. Federal anti-discrimination laws carve out exemptions for private and religious organizations. In the expulsion letter, the Vice President paid recognition to Christian’s civil liberties but defended his decision by writing, “As an American and a Christian, I do respect your choice,(But) I have to uphold the Lifestyle Covenant at SCU and confront you with our position.”

    If you or your institution has any questions or concerns regarding education related issues, please email Cynthia A. Augello at caugello@cullenanddykman.com or call her at (516) 357-3753.

    A special thank you to Maria Ehlinger, a Summer Associate at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for her assistance with this blog post.