An online petition that has garnered more than 35,000 signatures says a Christian university should forgive the debt of a former student who was expelled for being gay, though school officials say the university's sexual misconduct and financial policies were made clear in its student handbook.
The petition states that Danielle Powell was expelled from Grace University in Omaha, Neb., in 2011 just one semester short of graduating after school officials discovered she was in a same-sex relationship. The school also revoked her scholarships, the petition states, and asked her to pay $6,000 in tuition for her final semester, which she didn't complete.
Michelle Rogers, who created the petition, is Powell's wife. She is asking the school, and specifically Grace University Executive Vice President Michael James, to stop trying to collect the money Powell owes.
"We are a young, recently married couple and this lingering debt – which Danielle should not have to pay and Grace University has no right to demand – is holding her back from achieving her dreams and putting us in a perilous financial situation," wrote Rogers.
Grace University President David M. Barnes said in a statement emailed to The Christian Post that he cannot discuss details about individual students because of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). He did, however, say the code of conduct in the university's student handbook states that any kind of premarital sex is unacceptable.
"Outside of heterosexual marriage, interpersonal sexual activity in all of its forms is sin according to God's Word," states the handbook. "Any student involved in sexually immoral behavior, including premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual acts, is at minimum placed on University Probation and may be subject to a Judiciary Hearing."
All students who are admitted into the school are given a student handbook, Barnes says, and must sign a document agreeing to abide by its rules before starting classes. Included in the handbook are financial account policies.
"We want to be clear, the issue is repayment of federal loans and grants, not scholarships," said Barnes.
Grants applied to a student's account are not available for refund until the semester is 60 percent through, the student handbook states. Students who withdraw, are suspended or expelled before 60 percent of the semester is complete typically must pay the school, which is required by law to return Title IV funds on behalf of those students.
"From the very beginning, we have been and remain willing to provide transcripts and transfer credits of the student in question," said Barnes. "Grace University is run on biblical principles, therefore we do not employ collection agencies or take legal action, nor do we report to credit agencies. Our policy is to notify the student of the debt, and we believe it is up to the student to uphold their Christian obligations."
Another petition asking James to "stand firm in the Lord" and "hold Danielle Powell accountable for her decisions" has also been created on Change.org by Christian news website CNMnewz.com. The petition also says the student handbook was clear, and argues that James may need support from other believers when he receives Rogers' petition.
"Let Michael James know also that there are those who support holding 'any' individual to the terms in which they agreed," the petition states. "Nobody forced Ms. Powell to walk away and we should all find it unfair that anyone other than Ms. Powell should have to bear the burden of her debt."