College life in Philly

Chestnut Hill College argues for ‘immunity’ from PA discrimination law

City Council and Mayor Jim Kenney have spoken out against the Catholic school.

Allan-Michael Meads, right, was expelled from Chestnut Hill College in 2012, and the controversy surrounding his dismissal still engulfs the small Catholic school.

Allan-Michael Meads, right, was expelled from Chestnut Hill College in 2012, and the controversy surrounding his dismissal still engulfs the small Catholic school.

Kiran Sridhara/Flickr and Allan-Michael Meads

Chestnut Hill College continued to make the case that as a Catholic college it should be protected from a state discrimination law, presenting arguments in front of three Commonwealth Judges Tuesday afternoon.

This appeals case stems from a 2015 finding of discrimination against black student Allan-Michael Meads by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. No ruling was made today, but lawyers for CHC and for the PHRC underwent strict questioning from Judges Robert Simpson and Anne Covey, who mainly pressed CHC on what religious doctrine was being threatened by the school being subject to the PHRC.

“But isn’t it just as important nobody discriminates?” Covey asked.

Danielle Banks, CHC’s lawyer, replied by saying Pennsylvania court had already determined Catholic schools’ First Amendment rights took precedent over because of two previous cases involving Catholic high schools. She continually brought them up throughout the brief hearing, arguing these decisions gave Catholic schools, colleges included, the right to discipline students as they see fit.

“This in essence,” Banks said, “is an immunity.”

Jelani Cooper, the PHRC’s lawyer, countered it was “about protecting the civil rights of students at Chestnut Hill College” and that the cases cited by Banks did not apply to colleges. CHC, which enrolls students of all religions and races, receives state funding. He asked the judges to move the case back to the PHRC, so a full hearing could begin.

The CHC saga began in 2012 when Meads was expelled for allegedly stealing funds from a CHC performance of “A Raisin In the Sun.” He, cast members and faculty maintain that Meads didn’t steal. The PHRC’s findings claimed the school was much more lenient in punishing white students who had committed similar transgressions.

During the last year and a half, as Chestnut Hill College has sought exemption from the state discrimination laws, several faculty and staff have quit. City Council filed a resolution last November condemning the school’s actions, and Mayor Jim Kenney commended them for the resolution.

For a more in-depth look at the case, see our previous story.    

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