To Sue or not to Sue

I read an article in the Christian Post by Benjamin Bull entitled “Why Should Christians Fight for Justice?  Bull is addressing the question, “Shouldn’t Christians, including Christian lawyers, try to avoid conflict, such as litigation in courts, and spend their time on prayer and Christian fellowship and evangelism?”  Bull replies with a question of his own, “what would have happened without Christian litigation in the courts over the last 20 years or so?  And if we’re ready to turn back the clock on litigation, which legal victories are we willing to surrender?

The article and these two questions as they are framed address an issue that should be of concern to thinking Christians.  Should a Christian ever engage in a lawsuit?  If there are times when a suit is permissible what, if any, biblical parameters should guide us as Christians.

In 1 Corinthians 6:1 we read, “Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints?”  Some suggest Paul is saying lawsuits are never the way to handle disputes, but the context that continues through verse 8 refers to disagreements among members in the church, that should be handled among themselves without outside interference.

When Paul was threatened by a Jewish mob and arrested by the Roman authorities, thinking Paul had incited a riot, the Roman commander prepared to examine Paul by scourging.  Paul exercised his legal rights as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:25-29).  It was not the first time Paul had done this (Acts 16:36-39).

But this same apostle would enjoin us “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.  Respect what is right in the sight of all men.  If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men” (Romans 12:17-18).  So I glean two truths from Paul’s example and his teaching; it is not wrong to pursue our legal rights when persecuted, but pursuing our legal rights may not always be the right thing to do if there is a peaceful means of resolving the conflict.

I believe religious institutions like churches, Bible colleges, seminaries, etcetera, have a right to have a moral clause in their employment contracts requiring biblical standards of morality of employees, and to enforce those standards.  I also believe such religious employers should be exempt from requirements to provide contraceptives or abortive services to their employees through their respective health care plans.  They have every right to pursue their legal remedies under the United States Constitution.

In recent years another issue has arisen.  Should Christian student organizations be given the same recognition as other student organizations, even though as Christians they have club rules that discriminate anyone serving in leadership with non-Christian beliefs or practices?  There have been cases where schools have refused to recognize such religious organizations like the Christian Legal Society, and in effect, denied them reasonable accommodations to meet on campus and nominal financial assistance afforded other student organizations.

This issue is a little thornier from the legal perspective.  Any private university that is funded solely by private donors and student tuition (even though some of those students are Christians) has a legal right to support the student organizations it chooses.  The legal standard is different for public universities, id est, those universities that receive some governmental funding.  Public universities supported by tax dollars should not be permitted to discriminate against any legitimate student organization.

So when the Christian Legal Society sued the University of California’s Hastings School of Law a few years ago for being denied status as a registered student organization entitled to reasonable accommodations and nominal financial support, I believe they had a legal right, but I was not convinced of the strength of their issue.  They could have easily met virtually anywhere else and the nominal financial support given to other registered student organizations was something like airfare for the leader of the group to travel to the national conference of the mother organization.  The CLS suit appeared to be a childish tantrum akin to throwing a sucker in the sand.

I realize what is a trifle to one is trouble to another, but while Christians have legal rights it is not always the right course to pursue them.  The CLS eventually lost the case.  I thought they should have never filed it.


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