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Judge rules against Savannah State, Christian "footwashing" case to go forward in court

Judge denies university’s motion to dismiss lawsuit filed by ADF and NLF attorneys on behalf of banished Christian student organization

SAVANNAH, Ga. — A federal judge said no Friday to Savannah State University’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by a Christian student group.  University officials booted the student group, Commissioned II Love, off campus after university officials deemed the group’s act of sharing the Gospel as “harassment” and the club’s practice of washing the feet of new members--as Jesus did with his disciples--as “hazing.”

“Christian students cannot be treated as second-class citizens.  It’s ridiculous that a university would boot a Christian student club from campus simply for exercising its First Amendment right to free speech,” said ADF Litigation Staff Counsel Joseph Martins with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom.

Officials at Savannah State University suspended the Christian student organization in April 2006, denying the group access to university facilities and benefits.  On Sept. 11, university officials applied the highest sanction possible against the student group--complete and formal expulsion from campus--alleging that the group violated its suspension when some of its members individually participated in a contemporary Christian music event.

Savannah State officials accused the student ministry of engaging in “harassment” because its members shared their faith with other students and “hazing” because its leaders washed the feet of new members in an act of service.  Foot washing is an ancient Christian custom reflecting Jesus’ service and love for his disciples.  The university charged that foot washing was “an activity which endangers or is likely to endanger the physical health of a student, regardless of the student’s willingness to participate in such activity.”

“These officials have shut down this Christian student club and shut down its ability to follow in Jesus’ footsteps through prayer, foot washing, and evangelism,” said attorney Barry Hodge of the National Legal Foundation.  “The First Amendment prohibits the government from censoring this free exercise of religion.”

Attorneys with the National Legal Foundation, along with attorneys with the ADF Center for Academic Freedom, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Commissioned II Love in March. 

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom is defending religious freedom at America’s public universities.  ADF is a legal alliance of Christian attorneys and like-minded organizations defending the right of people to freely live out their faith. Launched in 1994, ADF employs a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.