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Arizona Christian University Sues School District for Religious Discrimination

By Kathryn Post
arizona christian
Arizona Christian University in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo via Google Maps)

For 11 years, dozens of education students at Arizona Christian University, a private school in Glendale, Arizona, have gained teaching experience thanks to a student teaching program with the local public school district.

But last month the board of the Washington Elementary School District, the largest in the state, serving more than 25,000 students in 33 schools, unanimously voted to terminate its relationship with Arizona Christian. The district’s five-member board said their decision was based on the university’s “strong” anti-LGBTQ stance.

But in a lawsuit filed by the university Thursday, Arizona Christian claims that the school district was motivated by anti-religious bias, charging that the district has violated the university’s constitutional rights as well as Arizona’s Free Exercise of Religion Act. The suit names the district’s board members as defendants as well as the district.

According to the lawsuit, the district has hired at least 17 Arizona Christian education students over the 11 years the program has been in operation. The suit claims the district has never made a complaint about an Arizona Christian student or alumnus.

“What happened here is students are losing out on opportunities, and they’re frankly being punished because of their religious beliefs,” Jake Reed, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the university, told media. 

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“Here the school district is only further hurting its own students by cutting off the stream of teachers who have consistently showed excellent service in the school district,” Reed said, noting that elementary schools across the U.S. are facing a teacher shortage.

In a statement made last week, district Board President Nikkie Gomez-Whaley argued that the decision wasn’t about religious discrimination. 

“While we recognize the right of individuals to practice their faith, public schools are secular institutions. To that end, the board unanimously voted to discontinue its partnership with Arizona Christian University (ACU) whose policies do not align with our commitment to create a safe place for our LGBTQ+ students, staff, and community,” the statement said. “This is not a rejection of any particular faith as we remain open to partnering with faith-based organizations that share our commitment to equity & inclusion.”

A local television station, ABC15, reported Thursday that more than two dozen staffers had resigned from the Washington Elementary School District but could not confirm why the staffers resigned.

At the February meeting, board members cited the school’s religious mission — including its desire to promote “biblically informed values” like “traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage between one man and one woman,” as a reason to cut ties with the university.

“If we’re bringing people in whose mission … is to influence people to be biblically minded, how does that hold space for people of other faiths? How does that hold space for our members of the LGBT community?” asked board member Tamillia Valenzuela, who noted that three of the board members are members of the LGBTQ community. 

“For me this is not a concern about Christianity,” Gomez-Whaley said at the February meeting. “For me my pause is … this particular institution’s strong anti-LGBTQ stance and their strong belief that you believe this to your core and you take it out into the world.”

The lawsuit states that the university believes in treating every person with love and respect, regardless of their beliefs or identity, and that it instructs its staff and students to “respect and abide by the policies of the school districts it cooperates with.”

It also says the district’s decision harms the school by forcing the university and its students to choose between its partnership with the district and its religious beliefs.

Linnea Lyding, dean of the Shelly Roden School of Education and the School of Arts, Science & Humanities at ACU, said in a press release that the university’s education students bring respect and kindness to the classroom: “We certainly hope we can continue our partnership with this district for the benefit of the elementary children in our community and for our student-teachers.”

Kathryn Post is a reporter for Religion News Service based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

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15 Responses

  1. So much for Liv and let live. You either burn your pinch of incense to the emperor or you are punished.

  2. “If we’re bringing people in whose mission … is to influence people to be biblically minded, how does that hold space for people of other faiths? How does that hold space for our members of the LGBT community?”

    It holds the only valid space there is. The message of the Bible is for everyone. Apparently, this school board is being controlled by a person who wears cat ears in public. I pity all who are forced to comply with “her” (his, it, they, we…..did I cover them all?) world view. She makes Satan proud on a daily basis.

  3. I don’t often admit it, but this is my alma matter, and it is absolutely as bigoted as they are being portrayed as. It’s horrifying to me that they are suing for the right to keep discriminating. I am so embarassed by this school, and that my degree is from it.

    1. If you believe LGBTQ is compatible with Christianity, you are making a grievous mistake. People aren’t born gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, etc. That would imply God made them that way. Sorry, He didn’t. Man and woman. In His image. The LGBTQ behavior is a direct result of the fall. That’s not bigotry, but truth. It’s not hate. Hatred would be allowing the sin to continue. Furthermore, even in the secular world, your career is a ministry. While your might not be able to directly share the Gospel, you should be an example, bearing fruit. As such, I stand with Arizona Christian on this one.

      Watering down the Gospel and God’s Word is not the way to do things. Easy believism, seeker sensitive, and misinterpreting Scripture to fit a sinful lifestyle isn’t going to get anyone into Heaven

      1. Oh man, you are going to be SO SURPRISED when you get to heaven and are worshiping alongside our gay and gender queer brothers and sisters. I wish you would repent of your hate now, and see the kingdom as God intends it here on earth! I pray that God removes those judgemental scales from your eyes, so that you can worship alongside of them now.

        1. Jen:

          There will be no sinners in heaven. The Bible makes that crystal clear. Do you understand that God abhors sin? It’s the reason he sent Jesus.

          A Holy God does not tolerate, endorse, accept, support, or otherwise encourage sin. Period.

          If you think otherwise, I am so sorry. Somebody lied to you along the way!

          1. I have actually dug in and studied scripture, and the clobber passages specifically and deeply, and realized that it’s less clear than I once believed. Being gay is not sin. Being in a committed gay relationship is no more sin than being in a committed straight relationship. And as for “no sinners in heaven”- well, we are literally ALL sinners, and zero of us, even christians, live a sinless life. I guarantee that you CHOOSE to sin every day, as do I- which is the nature of being human.

            As I have studied God’s kingdom, I have come to very different conclusions of what it will be like than I grew up being taught. The white american evangelical church gets a lot of things wrong- this is just one of them.

          2. Jen, this is not a white American evangelical church thing. The church throughout its entire history as well as most of the church around the world currently, has dug in and studied scripture and has come to the conclusion that same sex sexual activity is sinful. You reject the teaching of not only the white American evangelical church but the entire historical and worldwide church.

            In the beginning, God made them male and female and for this reason a man leaves his mother and father and clings to his wife and the two become one flesh. That is the one and only reason and grounds for sexual activity. All else is sinful. Jesus affirmed this in his teaching.

            Progressive Christianity, which is largely white and American, is out of touch with the historical and worldwide church.

        2. Jen M,

          “when you get to heaven and are worshiping alongside our gay and gender queer brothers and sisters”

          Sodom and Gomorrah would point to another truth. Same applies to straight men and women outside of marriage, but marriage is clearly defined by Christ as between a man and a woman, culture does not have the authority to change this truth:

          Mt 19

          4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who [a]made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”

          Mk 10

          6 But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
          7 For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
          8 And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.9 What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

          1. I’m reinforcing Gordon‘s statement that this is not a mere white evangelical church thing.
            There are fewer institutions more conservative on this issue than the Black church.

      2. “ People aren’t born gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer, etc. That would imply God made them that way. Sorry, He didn’t.”

        Brian, Just curious – if science has the ability to breed pedophilia into male mice, or breed polygamy into species of monkeys who were once monogamous, then what would your response be if this same science was secretly being used on humans? Is God responsible in any way? Are the individuals responsible?

    2. I’m sure if Jesus appeared on Earth today, somewhere in a democratic city, and started preaching, He’d be called a bigot and much worse. Jesus is coming back someday and most will burn for their sins. He ain’t playing games.

      1. Naw, I’m pretty sure it’s the religious elite that would have problems with Jesus if he were to preach on a street corner- just like in his own day….

  4. Enabling delusions is a form of child abuse.

    Maybe they should increase the scope of their lawsuit.

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