ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

ACTA is an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities.

Religious Freedom or False Advertising?

June 23, 2005 by ACTA

Seton Hall University is unusual among Catholic institutions in having on its books an anti-discrimination policy that expressly states the school's position that bias on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong: "No person may be denied employment or related benefits or admission to the University or to any of its programs or activities, either academic or nonacademic, curricular or extracurricular, because of race, color, religion, age, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, handicap and disability, or veteran's status," Seton Hall states. "All executives, administrators, faculty and managers, both academic and administrative, are responsible for individual and unit support of Seton Hall University's EEO/AA programs. EEO/AA policies are to be applied in all decisions regarding hiring, promotion, retention, tenure, compensation, benefits, layoffs, academic programs, and social and recreational programs." It was this policy that led Anthony Romeo to enroll at Seton Hall; as a gay man, Romeo wanted to attend a Catholic school that would not make an issue of his sexuality, and Seton Hall seemed to fit the bill.

So it happened that when Romeo tried to form a gay student group and was refused permission to do so, he sued Seton Hall for violating its own anti-discrimination policy. And he lost. The courts threw Romeo's case out, citing a series of rulings showing that religious institutions cannot waive their right to act in accordance with their official doctrine. Despite Seton Hall's stated commitment to providing equal academic opportunity regardless of sexual orientation, the court determined that the university retained an inviolable right to invoke its religious status as the basis for discriminating against gay people, and that therefore it had not mistreated Romeo.

Seton Hall is happy with the ruling. "We don't allow discrimination in admissions and hiring," a spokesman said. "We want our gay and lesbian students to feel comfortable on campus, but we also have to balance that with the mission and goals of being a Catholic institution." The fact remains that Romeo would not have enrolled at Seton Hall if he had understood that the university reserved the right to back out of its non-discrimination policy. Seton Hall has not acknowledged that while the courts may not have a problem with what amounts to false--or at least misleading--advertising on its part, prospective students might. If Seton Hall truly wants "gay and lesbian students to feel comfortable on campus," it should be honest with them about just how far their rights do--and do not--extend.

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