In California, a Victory for Biblical Standards at Faith-Based Schools

Inside the Issues with Alan Sears

Alan Sears, Esquire

ADF President, CEO, & Legal Counsel

February 10, 2009

Standing up for what you believe in isn't just a legal risk for individual Christians these days – it's increasingly hazardous for Christian institutions.

Officials at California Lutheran High School, in Wildomar, for instance, have been facing a lawsuit for purportedly violating the state's anti-discrimination laws – by choosing to enforce biblical standards of sexual purity laid out clearly for students as part of the school's admission procedures.

The case stems from the decision of two female California Lutheran students to tell their principal that they were in "love" with each other, after a teacher investigated allegations by another student that the two girls had announced their "love" for each other on their MySpace pages. The teacher checked out the pages and confirmed the student's story.

Since the school's official code of conduct expressly prohibits such conduct, the school disciplinary committee suspended the girls. The girls' parents then sued the school, saying that officials, by enforcing their policy, were illegally discriminating against their daughters.

In effect, their argument was that California Lutheran has no right to insist that students at a Christian school take biblical principles seriously. What's more incredible is that the principles in question – and the punishment for violating them – were clearly articulated to every student in writing prior to admission. So school officials are essentially being sued for doing what they promised to do.

Happily, the California Court of Appeal saw both the legal error and the irony in that argument, and held last week that the state's anti-discrimination laws do not prevent the school from using religious criteria in making admission and discipline decisions.

"Christian schools should be able to make admission and discipline decisions consistent with their religious beliefs," said Christian Legal Society Litigation Counsel Timothy J. Tracey. "The Court of Appeal's decision preserves that right for Christian schools in California. The court understood that this right would be violated if Christian schools were subjected to liability under California anti-discrimination laws for expelling students who engage in homosexual conduct."

The Alliance Defense Fund, along with the Christian Legal Society, represented the Association of Faith Based Organizations (which includes over 830 private religious schools in California) who advocated that the school be allowed to keep its faith-based conduct code.

A copy of the opinion issued by the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Two, in Doe v. California Lutheran High School Association is available at

We are so thankful for faith-based schools that still maintain high moral standards for their students. Enforcing those standards takes great courage in today's often hostile legal environment – and nowhere more so than in California. Thank you for your support of ADF as we stand with them and so many others in defense of religious liberty. And please be in prayer for the teachers, staff, and administrators who seek to "speak the truth in love" to their students, and set before them the highest standards of moral behavior.