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Does washing feet like Jesus really fit hazing definition? Let the court decide

By Mike White

Excerpt Officials from a Georgia university were sued in Federal Court Thursday after the school, Savannah State University, had revoked recognition of an on campus Christian ministry the school had accused of “harassment” and “hazing.” The lawsuit was brought by both the Alliance Defense Fund for Academic Freedom (ADF, a Christian legal agency) and the National Legal Foundation and was reported today in a press release for the Alliance Defense Fund.

On April 11 of last year the university imposed the second highest form of discipline, suspension from campus against Commissioned II Love. Suspended groups are denied access to university facilities and benefits. University officials on September 11 formally applied expulsion from campus to the group, the highest form of discipline, charging that members of the group had violated terms of the suspension by participating in a Christian music event. Members of the Christian ministry were allegedly accused by school officials of “harassment” for sharing their faith in the death, burial, and resurrection with others and “hazing” because members of the group, following the example of Jesus, washed the feet of others during a worship service. Reportedly university officials took the position that regardless of whether or not people present willingly participated in the foot washing, that was an activity that is likely to endanger the health of participants.

According to a copy of the suit, the Georgia university that is being sued for harassing the Christian ministry claims in its student handbook that “no rights are more highly regarded …. than the first amendment guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and to peacefully assemble.” It also states the handbook promises the University will not “exclude any person from its programs or activities on the basis of …. religion.”

“Instead of upholding the exercise of these Constitutional rights and treating plaintiffs without regard to their religion, the Defendants have taken sides amongst students in a campus debate over religious beliefs and practice by using the power of the state to punish and prohibit C2L, a faith-based association and its members from exercising their constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion, the freedom of speech, the right to peaceably assemble and to associate,” the suit claims.

The suit claims that the school has punished the Christian ministry because it members washed one another’s feet, for assembling and praying, assembling and worshiping, wearing religious symbols, and verbally responding to those who disagree with their beliefs. It claims that the Christian group has been denied the right to participate in constitutionally protected events.

The suit is seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. According to the suit it is being brought because the 1st and 14th Amendment rights of students were denied.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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