In a victory for religious freedom, a Maryland district court ruled in favor of moving forward in the case of a student denied college admission because of his religious beliefs. Brandon Jenkins of Bel Air, Maryland, is one of two students who were rejected from the Radiation Therapy Program at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) after expressing religious viewpoints during the admissions process. College officials, including the program director, sought to have the case dismissed, but a judge ruled Friday, March 20, that the case should proceed.
Representing Jenkins, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) filed its initial lawsuit last April against the CCBC officials for religious discrimination. ACLJ attorneys also filed suit in a separate case involving Dustin Buxton, another prospective student.
Despite having credentials that surpass the program’s standards for qualified, competitive candidates, Jenkins was told by CCBC Program Director Adrienne Dougherty:
“I understand that religion is a major part of your life and that was evident in your recommendation letters, however, this field [radiation therapy] is not the place for religion… If you interview in the future, you may want to leave your thoughts and beliefs out of the interview process.”
In an opinion issued last week, the court agreed with ACLJ’s arguments against dismissal, recognizing that “if it is true that a preference for ‘nonreligion,’ or for ‘nonreligious’ candidates, did actually cause Dougherty to deny Jenkins admission to the RTP [Radiation Therapy Program], …[s]uch a decision would…be an unconstitutional preference.”
Jenkins’ attorney Carly Gammill, ACLJ’s litigation counsel in the case, reacted to the court’s decision: “Turning away a qualified applicant from a public education program because he is open about his religious faith confounds not only basic constitutional principles but also simple logic. The notion that an individual’s faith somehow diminishes his ability to practice in the medical field cannot be squared with reality or, when espoused by the government, the First Amendment.”
Gammill also noted that the ACLJ may appeal a troubling decision by the court to dismiss Mr. Jenkins' claim that his denial of admission served as a penalty for his expression of a religious viewpoint: “The dismissal of the free speech claim by the court was flawed. The court’s conclusion that the government does not violate free speech rights when it bases academic admissions decisions on a religious viewpoint expressed by a candidate threatens to establish dangerous precedent that we may ask the Fourth Circuit to review and correct. That issue aside, we are encouraged that the court recognized the obvious and inherent problems with government decision-making based on the desire to scrub programs of religious adherents and that we are able to move forward with this suit on behalf of Mr. Jenkins.”
The ACLJ represents Jenkins, along with fellow prospective student Buxton, in defending their right as private citizens to adhere to their Christian faith without fear of discrimination from the government.
Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice focuses on constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C.
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