The Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech) has been sued by the Alliance Defense Fund for imposing a religious orthodoxy on its student body, for having an oppressive speech code that unfairly limits political and religious speech and for illegally defunding conservative student organizations, according to ADF senior legal counsel David French.
The suit has been filed in the Northern District Court of Georgia on behalf of students Orit Sklar, a junior, and Ruth Malhotra, a senior. Both are members of College Republicans at Georgia Tech and are members of separate religious student organizations. Sklar is president of the school’s chapter of Hillel, a Jewish group. Malhotra is involved with Catalyst Ministries, a Christian student group.
The lawsuit names Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough, Dean of Students Gail DiSabatino, Dean of Student Involvement Danielle McDonald, Director of Diversity Programs Stephanie Ray, and Director of Housing Michael D. Black as defendants.
According to the lawsuit, “through its ‘Safe Space’ program, the Institute and Defendants engage in religious counseling, instruct community members in what they believe is the correct interpretation of holy texts on issues of homosexuality, promote the beliefs of religions that favor homosexual behavior and denigrate religions that oppose this behavior.”
“If the establishment clause [of the First Amendment] means anything, it means that a state university cannot endorse one brand of religion over another regarding personal morality,” said French, explaining the unconstitutionality of the training offered with Safe Space.
Georgia Tech’s Safe Space Web site, http://www.safespace.gatech.edu/ offers a training manual. In the manual, under the heading GLBT People and Spirituality, 16 religious denominations are listed with summaries of each group’s views on homosexuality. Here are just a few of the statements.
Mormons—The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) has the most anti-gay policies of any religion widely practiced in the United States.
Southern Baptist—In 1987 the Southern Baptist Convention condemned homosexuality as a manifestation of a depraved nature and a perversion of divine standards. They also linked homosexuality to a general problem with moral decline in modern society.
Seventh Day Adventists—This small sect has been vocal in its condemnation of homosexuality. They believe that same-sex practices are obvious perversions of God’s original plan.
Islam—The Moslem religion has a long tradition of severely proscribing homosexuality in theory, but it’s often conveniently overlooked in practice.
Episcopal—Historically the Episcopal Church has been more receptive to gay worshipers than many other Christian denominations. They welcome gay and lesbian members, ordain non-practicing homosexuals, and participate in anti-hate programs. They do not, however, perform same-sex union ceremonies.
Metropolitan Community Church—Founded by the Rev. Troy Perry in 1968, the Metropolitan Community Church is an ecumenical religious denomination that predominately serves the gay, lesbian and bisexual community, although they welcome all worshippers. The church ordains openly gay and lesbian clergy, performs same-sex union ceremonies, and believes that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality.
The purpose of the Safe Space program according to its Web site is “(a) to provide a supportive environment for GLBT members of the campus community, (b) to facilitate their ‘coming out’ process, (c) to foster a social climate in which others do not feel the need to express anti-gay attitudes in order to ‘fit in,’ (d) to dispel negative stereotypes and present factually accurate information about GLBT people, and (e) to publicize other support resources or structures that are available on or off campus.”
The ADF lawsuit is also challenging a “speech code” at Georgia Tech based on regulations within the Student Code and Community Guide [documents governing student behavior]. The lawsuit quotes the Community Guide statement on intolerance which says, “The following are Acts of Intolerance and are considered unacceptable: A. Any attempt to injure, harm, malign, or harass a person because of race, religious belief, color, sexual/affectional orientation, national origin, disability, age, or gender. B. Direct verbal or physical assaults upon an individual because of their racial, ethnic, or sexual/affectional identity. C. Posting, painting, engraving or otherwise displaying derogatory slogans or symbols on personal or state property…F. Denigrating written/verbal communications (including the use of telephones, emails and computers) directed toward an individual because of their characteristics or beliefs.”
Students violating any of those terms are subject to disciplinary action and according to the Student Code, student groups and organizations “may be held collectively and individually responsible” under this same code.
ADF also contends that free speech is limited by the Event Scheduling policy which restricts the location of free speech to a small amphitheater on campus.
Therefore, according to the lawsuit, Sklar and Malhotra “cannot engage in the full range of dialogue on matters of political, cultural, and religious importance…[for] fear that discussion of their social, cultural, and political and/or religious views regarding these issues may be sanctionable.”
According to the lawsuit, Sklar and Malhotra were forced to paint over part of their written protest of “The Vagina Monologues” and their diversity bake sale was shut down by the university. On such occasions, Malhotra was warned by a university official not to do this again.
The final point of the lawsuit is the illegal refusal to fund certain types of student organizations, which unfairly affects political and religious groups. As with many colleges and universities, Georgia Tech assesses each student a Student Activity Fee that funds, among other things, student organizations. But the funding is governed by policies, one of which is that the university “will not fund ‘Partisan Political Activities’ or ‘Religious Activities’.”
The ADF suit charges that this is “impermissible viewpoint discrimination” on the part of the school.
The purpose of the lawsuit is to get rid of the unconstitutional speech code, eliminate the religious indoctrination and restore funding to political and religious student groups, said French.
Speech codes on university campuses are a huge problem according to David French. He said that 70 percent of America’s top 400 schools have speech codes “in one form or another and are used disproportionately to suppress religious speech.”
“Universities are supposed to be a marketplace of ideas, where students come to learn to think and question. A speech code suppresses thought by saying that the university has all the answers. So speech codes strike at the very heart of the universities’ mission,” said French.
Stephanie Ray, Director of Diversity Programs, could not comment and suggested contacting the university’s legal office.
The Alliance Defense Fund based in Scottsdale, Arizona is a legal coalition that fights to protect religious freedom, academic freedom and the sanctity of life.
An email to Scott McKee, Student Coordinator of the Safe Space program, as well as a phone call to Georgia Tech’s Public Affairs office were made. But we were unable to get a comment before publication. AIA will print their response if they contact us.
Julia A. Seymour is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.