Paige Patterson uses First Amendment as defense in SWBTS sexual assault lawsuit

Former president of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Ft. Worth, Texas, Paige Patterson. | (Photo:

Former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president Paige Patterson has denied claims that he mishandled rape allegations presented to him by a former student, and claimed the First Amendment as a defense. 

In a document filed in court on Monday, the 76-year-old Patterson, known for his part in leading the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention, refuted the allegations levied against him in a federal lawsuit, according to Baptist News and The Houston Chronicle

The lawsuit was filed in May in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Texas by a former student identified only as “Jane Roe.” It lists both Patterson and the SWBTS as defendants.

Roe alleged that Patterson mistreated her when she reported being raped by a male student-employee, identified as “John Doe,” in 2014 and 2015 and that she was fearful that the student could harm her or her family. 

Roe alleged that she met with Patterson and other male leaders at the seminary to come forward about the sexual assaults in August 2015. The student accused Patterson of getting enjoyment out of making her feel uncomfortable with “humiliating questions” about the assaults. 

She also accused the former seminary president of saying that it is a “good thing” that she was assaulted because “the right man would not care if she was a virgin or not.” Patterson, she claimed, told her that he was too busy to deal with her allegation because it was the start of the semester. 

Although the student-employee accused of the assault was later expelled for having prohibited weapons on campus, the alleged victim said she was “offered no support or protection for Roe and her family.”

In the Monday court filing, according to Baptist News, Patterson refuted Roe’s characterization of his behavior in the lawsuit and also denied claims he shared false information about Roe for the purposes of distribution. 

Patterson also argued that allegations of negligence have a two-year statute of limitations and that it would be a violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to hold him (a leader of a religious body) responsible for conduct delegated to someone else under the governing documents of the institution.  

Additionally, as Baptist News notes, anything he may have said in conversations with Roe would be protected by the Free Excercise Clause of the First Amendment, according to Patterson’s legal response. 

He further contended that it would be an “excessive entanglement with religion in violation of the First Amendment” for a court to determine whether or not the student should have been enrolled in the seminary. 

Patterson stressed that he did not have adequate “knowledge or information sufficient to form a belief as to the truth or falsity of these allegations."

The Southern Baptist leader stepped down as president of the seminary in May 2018 after the claim that he mishandled rape accusations from the student came to light.

SWBTS initially gave him the title of president emeritus in which he would still have been compensated. But after an email surfaced that indicated that Patterson wanted to meet with the student in order to “break her down,” the seminary’s board of trustees voted to immediately terminate Patterson.  

In response to the lawsuit, Patterson said he “prays that all relief sought by Plaintiff against him be denied and for such other relief the Court deems appropriate.”

Earlier this month, SWBTS officially responded to Roe’s lawsuit and denied liability for mistreatments suffered by Roe. The seminary also created distance between itself and Patterson.

“SWBTS denies that it ratified any conduct of Leighton Paige Patterson at the time of the alleged acts or omissions at issue,” the seminary’s Aug. 7 response filing reads.

Last week, The Houston Chronicle reported that uncovered videos and documents detail how Patterson allegedly downplayed sexual misconduct allegations against former pastor and “protégé” Darrell Gilyard. Gilyard was convicted of sex offenses against minors. 

“Patterson continued to downplay the claims even after his protégé confessed and resigned from Victory Baptist Church, near Dallas, in July 1991,” the Houston Chronicle report reads. “Speaking to the congregation that night, Patterson called many of the accusations untrue. Others he described as ‘sins’ committed by women who were ‘not innocent either’ and Gilyard, whom Patterson then hailed as a ‘spokesman of God’ and ‘one of the most brilliant men who has ever stepped into the pulpit.’”

Patterson maintained in 2008 that he had expelled Gilyard from Bible school when Gilyard confessed to adultery and has had nothing to do with him since that time. 

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

or Facebook: SamuelSmithCP

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