court rules school can ban lesbians
Robert Durell/AP

Court’s Ruling on Lesbians’ Expulsion Muddies California’s Stand on Gay Rights

January 29, 2009 10:32 AM
by Rachel Balik
A California court has ruled that a private Christian school can expel students for being gay, further complicating the battle over gay rights in the state.

California Court Says Private Institutions Are Free to Discriminate

A Lutheran high school in Riverside County, California, has won a lawsuit brought by two former students who were expelled for allegedly having a lesbian relationship. The school says its mission statement is to teach students Christian values and, because it is a private school, it has a right to exclude anyone who does not adhere to its guidelines. The girls sued the school for violating a state antidiscrimination law; the court ruled that a private religious school is not a business, and therefore, that law did not apply.

The lawyer who represented the two girls was disturbed by the ruling and asserted that the decision means that all private schools can now use religion to justify discriminatory behavior, representing a reversion to attitudes from 30 years ago.

California has made efforts to ensure that the rights granted to private institutions do not extend to the public sector. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Boy Scouts of America had permission to exclude gay troop leaders in 2000, the California Supreme Court considered barring judges from continuing to be members of the organization.

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Background: Discrimination in private institutions

The appeals court ruling in the school case relied upon the precedent of a 1998 California ruling that as a private group, the Boy Scouts of America had permission to exclude atheists, agnostics and gays. The court ruled that the Boy Scouts is a “social organization” rather than a business; in California only businesses are subject to antidiscrimination rules.

A New York court also set a related precedent in 1962, in Carr v. St. John’s University. The court upheld the Catholic university’s right to expel two students who were married in a civil ceremony as well as two other students who served as witnesses. The court ruled that attending the university implied a contract to abide by the university’s code of conduct. Marrying outside the Catholic Church violated that code.

Related Topic: Gay Rights in California

California has been seemingly seesawing on gay rights during the past year; its Supreme Court legalized gay marriage last June, only to have gay marriage banned again in November with the passing of Proposition 8. The Supreme Court has agreed to hear cases against the ban, but there is a still a long road ahead for those seeking to overturn Prop 8.

Still, in California, Minnesota and Arizona, improving gay rights is on the political agenda for activist groups. The ultimate goal is the widespread legalization of gay marriage, but the groups will start with a focus on better education and awareness.

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