The American Center for Law and Justice is suing a Maryland community college after a student was denied admittance into a program because he said God is the most important thing in his life.
Brandon Jenkins, a prospective student in the radiation therapy program at the Community College of Baltimore County, exceeded the minimum requirements for entry into the program, but after completing his exam and interview process, he received a notice informing him that he was not selected for the fall 2013 term.
When Jenkins followed up with members of the CCBC staff to find out why he was not being admitted into the program because he wanted to reapply the next term, he was told that among the reasons why he was not selected is because his chosen field is "not the place for religion."
During his interview process with a five-person panel, Jenkins was asked: "What is the most important thing to you?" And he replied, "My God."
But according to ACLJ, a Washington, D.C.–based organization that focuses on defending constitutional and human rights laws worldwide, this was the only time Jenkins commented on his belief in God. The ACLJ also noted that he only did so because he was responding to a question asked by one of the CCBC representatives.
A federal lawsuit was filed Monday on Jenkins' behalf by the ACLJ, which is asking that Jenkins be granted admission into the program, and that he be awarded damages related to the delay in his admission.
After Jenkins requested feedback from the CCBC about his being denied admittance into the program, Adrienne Dougherty, director and coordinator of radiation therapy, told Jenkins: "I understand that religion is a major part of your life and that was evident in your recommendation letters, however, this field is not the place for religion."
She continued, "We have many patients who come to us for treatment from many different religions and some who believe in nothing at all. If you interview in the future, you may want to leave your thoughts and beliefs out of the interview process."
ACLJ Senior Counsel David French told The Christian Post Wednesday that Dougherty's statement to Jenkins is not only "flatly illegal, but also bigoted." He also noted that the "college's own lawyer said that he (Jenkins) shouldn't wear his faith on his sleeve."
"Under what circumstance would answering that God is the most important thing in his life mean that he would be unable to treat people from other religions or from no religion?" French asked. "That was an assumption on the college's part and had no basis on anything Jenkins said at any point during the interview process."
French told CP that in all the years he's been litigating religious liberty cases, he's never seen one like Jenkins,' where the university specified an applicant's religion as being one of the reasons for denying admission.
"I've been working on cases involving religious liberty on campus for a long time, and I can honestly say, I've never seen it as blatant in the admissions process as you have here," he said.
"The problem is that you have a guy who is qualified in all areas, and in the rejection letter, they single out his faith as a reason for his rejection. That's just flatly unlawful," French asserted. "It's every bit as unlawful as singling out his race, or singling out his gender. To single out his religion is just as unlawful, and it violates the Constitution."
French described Jenkins as a "high-character individual," and noted that before he applied to the radiation therapy program, he was helping to run a halfway house, which is work that he continues to do today.
"He's a model citizen," he added. "He's exactly the kind of student that community colleges exist to serve. Someone who's a productive member of society who wants to broaden their career skills."
French also emphasized his belief that the question posed to Jenkins – "What is most important in your life" – is not an academic question. "It's not related to the radiation therapy program. They asked a question that went far beyond the bounds of the academic program itself, and they got an honest answer, from a Christian, about what's most important to him; and then they discriminated against him on that basis. It's absurd."
In the lawsuit that was filed in federal court earlier this week, the ACLJ is asking for an injunction against the university, for Jenkins to be admitted into the program, and for him to be paid damages for the unplanned expenses he incurred because he thought he was going to be a full-time student, but instead had to restart his business after learning his was denied admittance into the physical therapy program.
French told CP that ACLJ sent a letter to the CCBC in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit, but instead, they "doubled down" on Jenkins' Christianity being a disqualifier for admittance into the program.
"We didn't want to sue the college. We wanted the college to do the right thing and consider his application without reference to his faith. Not only did they reaffirm their decision to not admit him, but they doubled down on discussing his faith," he said.
The other reasons Dougherty provided to Jenkins for denying his admission into the program included his 3.2 GPA being lower than other applicants; his statement that he preferred to work in Maryland as a radiation therapist instead of relocating to a different state; and one criminal charge on his record from 10 years ago, which they said could make it difficult for him to find employment.