Diversity or Adversity?

by Richard Wiley
Legal Intern
Liberty University Law School

“We value the diversity of people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints and honor the dignity of all persons, ” says the Community College of Baltimore County’s (“CCBC”) website. “We are committed to preparing students to be active citizens, ready to meet the challenges of an increasingly diverse world and a changing global marketplace.”

In fact, CCBC is so devoted to diversity that its student body is 2% multicultural, 33% African-American, 5% Asian, 5% Hispanic, 7% unknown, and 46% white. Yet despite the allegedly strong atmosphere of all-inclusiveness, there is at least one characteristic that the school has repeatedly refused to tolerate.

When Dustin Buxton prepared for his interview with CCBC, a government entity, to join the college’s radiation therapy program, loaded questions about his faith were probably the last thing on his mind. In an interview in May of 2013, instead of avoiding religion, the program’s interview panel asked Buxton point-blank, “What do you base your morals on?” Buxton’s response was concise and honest: “my faith.”

Buxton’s answer was the only reference to faith in the interview. Yet the Program Director, Adrienne Dougherty, purported in a review of the interview that she deducted points from Buxton’s application because, according to her, “he brought up religion a great deal during the interview.” The Director went on to say, “[y]es, this is a field that involves death and dying; but religion cannot be brought up in the clinic by therapist or students.” Dougherty even challenged Buxton saying, “If you interview in the future, you may want to leave your thoughts and beliefs out of the interview process.”

For a school that is all about the diversity of beliefs and the inclusion of ideas, CCBC seems to have taken a rather exclusive approach to faith. The interview does not contain a specific reference to Christianity or any other religion at all. Faith was the only religion-like word that was introduced during Buxton’s conversation with the panel.

If CCBC truly desires to support diversity and professionalism in the profession, they should encourage people of faith to apply to its programs. This would expose prospective practitioners to various religious backgrounds and acquaint them with how to respond when a patient maintains beliefs that require certain procedures or treatments.

Unfortunately, Buxton was not accepted to the radiation therapy program in 2013. His determination, however, was undiminished when he applied again in 2014. Yet, this time, CCBC refused to even grant Buxton an interview. Moreover, CCBC went beyond rejecting Buxton and barred him from registering for any classes at all, even classes unrelated to the radiation therapy program. Apparently, Buxton was unable to register for these other classes because of a hold on his account related to the May interview. This hold was dated July 1, 2014, to December 31, 2099, barring Buxton from registration for 85 years.

Because, if you’re going to refuse admission, you might as well make it effective for the next 85 years just in case the applicant reapplies when they are over one-hundred years old.

The American Center for Law and Justice (“ACLJ”) took Buxton’s case two years ago as it had with a similar case regarding a radiation therapy program applicant named Brandon Jenkins just five months prior to Buxton’s suit. In June of 2015, the ACLJ contacted CCBC and convinced CCBC to remove the hold on Buxton’s account. However, CCBC still refused to admit Buxton. In its 2016 decision, the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland granted summary judgment in favor of CCBC, holding that the right to private free speech is waived in academic admissions processes and that denial of admission based on the assumption that an applicant’s religious expression indicates that the applicant will impose his faith on patients in practice satisfies the Establishment Clause.

Yes, you read that right.  A court determined that simply having a faith – any faith apparently – automatically determines that you will “impose” that faith in practice at some point in the future.  In other words, this court just eliminated due process and allowed someone to be punished for something they might do, not something they did. 

ACLJ has petitioned the Fourth Circuit to reverse this decision, although the deadline for this decision is still uncertain.

In the meantime, let’s just hope that other colleges do not adopt CCBC’s 85-year rejection policy. We know that in today’s “higher education” climate, free speech and particularly free religious speech are under assault.  If our courts determine that blanket viewpoint discrimination is allowable in admissions to universities it’ll “fix” the problem conservatives often face on college campuses by preventing them from ever getting to college.