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Posted on Thu, Sep. 06, 2007

Evangelical group sues college over foot-washing

School considered the practice hazing


An evangelical Christian campus group that was expelled from Savannah State University is in a legal battle with the college over the question of whether the practice of foot-washing can be considered hazing.

On Aug. 24, a federal judge denied efforts by the Georgia school to have the entire case dismissed.

The student group, Commissioned II Love, was recognized as an official organization in 2003 but was later suspended and then expelled in 2006, after some students complained to university police that its members engaged in "practices that are not unlike (that) of a cult," such as "foot washings" and "baptisms," a court document states.

"Christian groups can't be treated as second-class citizens on campus," said Joseph Martins, an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund's Center for Academic Freedom, which has sued the school on behalf of the group and its officers.

"What's happened here is Savannah State University, which is a public university, has basically kicked off (the group) simply because they've been exercising their First Amendment rights."

The group had been controversial on campus, holding events with guest speakers on its "Biblical Perspectives on Greekdom," which criticized the partying atmosphere of some Greek-letter organizations.

Off campus, the group held a weekend retreat at a nearby beach at which members washed the feet of new members, following a practice instituted by Jesus with his disciples.

A campus hearing officer ruled that there was a "cause of concern" about some of the activities of the group, which was charged with harassment and hazing.

University officials declined to comment on the suit.

"It's an ongoing legal matter," said Loretta Heyward, spokeswoman for the school. "It would be inappropriate for the university to make any comments."