In 2006, two teenage girls were expelled from California Lutheran High School on suspicion of their being lesbians. That’s right — though expelling students because they actually were lesbians would have been a gross violation of civil rights, this took it a step further by expelling the two students merely on a guess.
In response to that suit, an appeals court decided this week that the private religious school was not a business and therefore did not have to comply with a state law that prohibits businesses from discriminating. A lawyer for the girls said Tuesday that he would ask the California Supreme Court to overturn the unanimous ruling by a three-judge panel of the 4th District Court of Appeal.
The appeals court called its decision “narrow,” but lawyers on both sides of the case said it would protect private religious schools across California from such discrimination suits.
Kirk D. Hanson, who represented the girls, said the “very troubling” ruling would permit private schools to discriminate against anyone, as long as the schools used their religious beliefs as justification.
“It is almost like it could roll back 20 to 30 years of progress we have made in this area,” said the San Diego attorney. “Basically, this decision gives private schools the license to discriminate.”
Yes, a license to discriminate. That’s exactly what this ruling does. As so often happens in this country, “freedom of religion” has been falsely interpreted to mean “the right to impose my religion on other people and use it as an excuse for my bigotry — even when I’m not following tenants as simple as the Golden Rule myself.”
The school also “outed” the girls to their parents (whether factually or not), and made sure that the rumors of their sexual relationship with each other got around, with the expulsion acting as a “confirmation” (again, whether factual or not). Even better, the girls were also sexually harassed by their principal in the course of his determining whether his suspicions about their lesbian status were valid:
In addition to their discrimination claim, the girls complained that the school invaded their privacy and detained them unlawfully. The girls complained the principal sat “very close” to them and asked them if they were bisexual, if they had kissed each other, and whether they had done anything “inappropriate,” the court said.
Mary Roe said, “He got very close to me and he said, ‘Have you ever touched [Jane Doe] in . . . any inappropriate ways? And he looked me up and down when he asked that.”
But the court said there was no evidence that the principal had a prurient interest in the girls.
“It is hard to imagine how he could have determined whether they had a homosexual relationship without asking the questions that he in fact asked,” wrote Richli, appointed to the court by former Gov. Pete Wilson.
Well, could Richli have missed the point any more?
I fully agree with her that the principal couldn’t have determined the nature of the girls’ relationship without asking them overtly sexual questions. Of course, he didn’t have leer at them while he did it, but the questions would have still need to have been asked.
Which is precisely the point. If you can’t determine the answer to a question without sexually harassing someone, you have no right to ask it. Plain and simple. And so, the answer to these questions were none of the principal’s business whatsoever. He had no right at all to ask them.
Except that now, legally, he does.