Friday, April 07, 2017

No 1st Amendment Bar To Deciding Catholic College's Student Expusion

In Chestnut Hill College v. Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, (PA Commnwlth. Ct., April 7, 2017), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (an appellate court) held that a Catholic college’s decision to expel a student is reviewable by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission.  The college expelled an African American student a few weeks before his scheduled graduation, allegedly because the student retained some of the proceeds from events that were held for a charitable cause.  The student claimed this was a pretext for racial discrimination.

The court held that Catholic colleges and universities are "public accommodations" under the state's Human Relations Act.  It held that adjudicating the claim would not involve unconstitutional entanglement between church and state, saying:
Student’s claims do not require the Commission to construe religious doctrine. Importantly, College did not identify any Catholic doctrine as grounds for Student’s expulsion.
The court also emphasized that the college "did not cite any religious doctrine based defense to Student’s racial discrimination claims."