A former Colorado Christian University student is one of 33 plaintiffs who filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education on Monday in an attempt to protect LGBTQ students at religiously affiliated colleges and universities from “abuses and unsafe conditions,” according to the suit.
Journey Mueller, citing her previous experience at CCU in Lakewood as the reason for joining the suit, said the institution forced her into conversion therapy and caused her to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mueller hopes the suit will put pressure on the university to make changes to its policies and prevent future students from having a similar to hers.
Muller said in a phone conversation, “I think they think what they are doing is the right thing and it doesn’t mean that it is. It’s not the right thing. But I don’t see them making any changes unless they are forced to.”
CCU did not respond to a request for comment as of March 31.
The plaintiffs, who study or studied at about 25 different faith-based institutions across the country, have detailed their experiences at the schools in their lawsuit to illustrate their argument against the DOE. Faith-based colleges are negotiating with the DOE to secure religious exemptions in case Congress passes a sweeping LGBTQ rights bill, the Equality Act, according to the Washington Post. Without the exemptions, religiously affiliated colleges could lose federal funding if they violated new anti-discrimination laws that the Equality Act would establish.
The recent lawsuit is a response to those negotiations between the schools and the DOE. Paul Carlos Southwick, the attorney representing the plaintiffs and director of the Religious Exemption Accountability Project, told the Washington Post, “I'm worried they will be cut out of the Equality Act protection through negotiations.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act in February. The U.S. Senate is currently considering the bill, where its passage is uncertain.
Religiously affiliated colleges are currently allowed to have their own sexual conduct policies and not lose federal funding. Colorado Christian's student handbook says, “the University holds that any sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is inappropriate.” Students who violate that policy, including by being in a same-sex relationship, are subject to disciplinary action.
That's ultimately what happened to Mueller, who identifies as a lesbian woman, when she was at CCU between August 2018 and April 2018, according to the suit. The alleged discrimination against Mueller started when her roommates locked her in a dorm room until she confessed to being attracted to women. After, the roommates reported Mueller to the administration, resulting in further discipline for Mueller and not her roommates, according to the suit.
Then, Mueller said in a phone conversation, the school required her to attend two meetings a week, one with a school-assigned mentor and another with a counselor. Mueller said that the counselor told her, “the goal of the school would be for me to come out straight at the end of it.”
In a 2019 Denver Post article that features Mueller’s story, Jim McCormick, CCU’s senior vice president of student life, told the Post, “The University Counseling Center seeks to come alongside students who are experiencing sexual identity or orientation uncertainty and journey with them by providing emotional and spiritual support.”
Mueller also said the school removed her from the dorm and placed her in a different living situation where she had limited access to other women, she said.
Mueller left CCU — where she originally intended to stay and receive a degree from — before the end of the 2018 spring semester. After, psychiatrists diagnosed her with PTSD, she has experienced housing and financial instability, and she hasn’t completed her degree, all due to her experience at CCU, she said.
Moving forward, Mueller hopes the suit will spur conversation and change on CCU’s campus. “I think they are going to have to answer some questions from students and family members. Because we’re putting them in the spotlight a little bit and I’m sure that’s not a comfortable position for them,” she said.
Though CCU hasn’t responded to allegations within the lawsuit, a statement from the Centennial Institute, CCU's think tank, said the Equality Act, “is a direct threat to religious communities across our nation.” The Centennial Institute said that among the legislation's consequences is, “It would prevent religious organizations from using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to protect their deeply held religious beliefs.”
Mueller said she is currently unsure where the suit will go. But, she said, “Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, at this point, I am really happy with what we have accomplished so far.”
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