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Published: 4/2/2005

Misread UT policy cited in bias suit

BY DALE EMcH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

A misinterpretation of University of Toledo policy by a school official apparently led to a lawsuit filed by a Christian student group that opposed listing nondiscrimination language in its constitution.

Christian Legal Society filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court against university officials after being informed its constitution must include language that it would not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, or sexual orientation. The group, the suit contends, was told it wouldn't be an officially registered student group unless it adopted the nondiscrimination language included in a sample constitution provided by Ricardo Reddick, UT's assistant director of student activities and leadership,

The message to the group's leaders, mostly Christian law students, did not track requirements in the student handbook. When the issue couldn't be resolved by letters from the student group's national representatives, the federal lawsuit was filed. Mr. Reddick did not return a call seeking comment yesterday, but Ronald Speier, associate vice president and dean of students, chalks the incident up to a communication problem he thinks could be resolved.

Mr. Speier said, "There's been some communication breakdown, and now we're trying to communicate with the organization to let them know we'll deal with them like we deal with every organization."

Being a recognized student organization confers benefits, such as the ability to petition for university funds, use campus facilities, and use the university's name in the club title.

The language in the sample constitution sent by Mr. Reddick contained a clause that stated that the organization would not deny membership on the basis of religion or sexual orientation.

But the student handbook says while membership in a student organization can't be denied on the basis of creed, it provides an exemption for religious organizations. It doesn't require language barring discrimination based on religion or sexual orientation. The lawsuit states Christian Legal Society objects to language barring discrimination on the basis of religion, creed, or sexual orientation because of its members' religious beliefs.

It says they believe the Bible prohibits homosexual or heterosexual sexual conduct outside a "traditional marriage between a man and a woman."

Requiring nondiscrimination language, according to the lawsuit, would violate the group's constitutional rights, including the freedom of expressive association, free speech, and free exercise of religion.

Mr. Speier said the handbook's language will be followed. A March 24 e-mail sent by Mr. Reddick to John Payne, treasurer of UT Christian Legal Society, drops the nondiscrimination language. It states the group would maintain its recognition as a student organization if it modified language on things like parliamentary procedure and listing qualifications for leaders.

"We're still awaiting their response and hope they will evaluate the situation and give us a prompt response," said Timothy Tracey, an attorney for the Center for Law & Religious Freedom, an Annandale, Va., organization that represents the Christian Legal Society.

Contact Dale Emch at:

daleemch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6061.



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