WASHINGTON– LAWFUEL – Legal Newswire –The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), specializing in constitutional law, said today it is pleased that it was able to secure a victory for an Arizona college journalism student who faced discrimination – and a failing grade – because of her Christian faith and her reporting that included a profile of actor Kirk Cameron and his Christian faith. After the ACLJ intervened on behalf of Sara Sloan, the school reversed itself and awarded her an occupational journalism certificate in addition to her associate’s degree.
“This was one of the most egregious violations of a student’s free speech rights we have ever seen – a troubling case about a college that not only failed to respect the viewpoint of one of its students, but penalized that student because of her Christian faith,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “At most colleges, great pains are taken to ensure academic freedom – to permit students to express their views without censorship or penalty. Unfortunately it took legal pressure to get this school to do what it should have done from the very beginning. To be singled out and penalized because of your Christian faith is not only wrong, but unconstitutional. We’re pleased that we were able to convince the college that it was in its best interest to reverse itself and provide our client with a journalism certificate and a degree that she earned and deserved.”
Sara Sloan, a journalism student at Paradise Valley Community College in Phoenix, contacted the ACLJ in December after she was denied an occupational journalism certificate from the school because of the religious viewpoint of some of her articles. An accomplished writer, Sara was denied the certificate after a panel assembled by her professor reviewed a number of articles she had written – including a profile of actor Kirk Cameron and the importance of his Christian faith.
One of those who voted to deny Sara the certificate wrote: “You identify yourself as a Christian in your bio, and that certainly comes through in the bias of this article. . . . I believe it would be a turn-off to any religion editor or reader who wasn’t a born again Christian. . . . I would have found a way to make this article relevant and inspirational even to readers who aren’t hard-core Christians.”
Another offered this explanation for issuing Sara a failing grade: “Regrettably, I have to say ‘No’ to Sara. I just don’t feel that Sara is quite ready for the world of secular journalism. . . . [M]y main problem with [Sara] is that she seems to approach all of her stories from a moralistic or even religious bent. . . . Now, there is nothing wrong with that if she wants to be a writer for religious publications . . . but I don’t think her style would be acceptable in a publication of general circulation. . . . At base, I think [Sara] has ample skills to find work in specialized publications but if the question were to be put to me to hire her or not, I would have to say not for most publications on the market place.”
In mid-December, the ACLJ sent the school’s attorney a letter demanding that the school recognize Sara’s First Amendment rights and reverse its discriminatory decision. The ACLJ warned that the school’s action was not only discriminatory, but unconstitutional and urged a reversal to avoid legal action.
On January 25th the school notified Sara acknowledging that it had reversed itself and told her that the occupational certificate of journalism was available for her to pickup at the school. Sara also received an associate’s degree from the school and is now pursuing a bachelor’s degree in communications at another school.
Led by Chief Counsel Jay Sekulow, the American Center for Law and Justice specializes in constitutional law and is based in Washington, D.C. The ACLJ is online at www.aclj.org.