By Corinne Murdock |
A Christian university’s case against a Phoenix school district over alleged religious discrimination got a hearing on Tuesday.
Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), who filed the lawsuit on behalf of Arizona Christian University (ACU) against the Washington Elementary School District (WESD), spoke with AZ Free News after the hearing on a motion for a preliminary injunction in the Arizona District Court.
ADF lawyer Jake Reed said they felt confident in their legal arguments and that the judge that heard the case, Steven Logan, was well-versed on the arguments ahead of Tuesday’s hearings. Reed said they’re hoping for a ruling within the next few weeks, considering ACU needs to place their student teachers for the upcoming year by the end of this semester.
“This is a pretty simple case about religious discrimination,” said Reed. “A public body is telling a university they can’t place their teachers because of their religious faith.”
WESD terminated its contract with ACU in February. Its governing board members cited ACU’s Christianity as a principal factor for their decision. Leading on the effort was board member Tamillia Valenzuela, who said that ACU’s Biblical perspective that traditional sexual morality and the standard of marriage between one man and one woman directly opposed her and other LGBTQ+ community members. Valenzuela received support from fellow board members Kyle Clayton and Nikki Gomez-Whaley.
“[W]hen I went and looked into not only [ACU’s] core values but then the statement of faith that they ask their students to sign and live by, what gave me pause was it’s not just teaching but it’s teaching as they say with a Biblical lens, with a proselytizing is embedded into how they teach, and you know, I just don’t believe that belongs in schools,” said Clayton. “I would never want, you know, my son to talk about his two dads and be shamed by a teacher who believed a certain way and is at a school that demands that they, you know, teach through [a] Biblical lens.”
Gomez-Whaley said she would be open to those who claimed to be Christians who were accepting of LGBTQ+ lifestyles.
“[E]ven though [ACU] may not do anything illegal where they are preaching or using Bible verses, I do believe that we owe it to especially all of our students when we’re working in equity but especially our LGBTQ students and staff who are under fire who are not protected, and who we have already pledged to support,” said Gomez-Whaley. “We cannot continue to align ourselves with organizations that starkly contrast our values and say that we legitimately care about diversity, equity, and inclusion and that we legitimately care about all of our families.”
Reed shared that in the 11 years of WESD and ACU’s relationship, there were well over 100 students placed as either student teachers or in teacher shadowing positions. Of those students, 17 went on to be hired by WESD.
When asked whether WESD could attempt religious discrimination in future contracting decisions under the guise of other reasons, Reed said that those incidents, if they were to occur, would have to be scrutinized.
“The government can’t treat certain people worse than everyone else. Students shouldn’t be denied opportunities because of their religious beliefs,” said Reed. “The government can’t pick and choose what beliefs they allow.”
WESD proposed to settle by extending a separate agreement with ACU for one more year — but not the agreement at issue.
Ahead of the hearing the judge denied an amicus brief filed last week by The Goldwater Institute, a public policy research and litigation organization. Logan stated in his order that the WESD didn’t consent to the brief and that the Goldwater Institute didn’t present relevant matters that hadn’t already or couldn’t be brought to the court by either party.
“The parties’ briefing on Plaintiff’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction is complete, thorough, and more than sufficient for this Court to make a ruling,” wrote Logan.