Judge Genovese, Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in a ruling issued November 6th completely dismissed all plaintiffs’ claims against Louisiana College, Dr. Leon Hyatt Jr., Kent Aguillard, Alan Shoemaker, Amy Russell and Dr. Joe Aguillard. Brought by four former professors, the court found that it was clear that the matter was a religious dispute. In dismissing all claims of Carlton Winbery, Fredrick Downing, James Heath, and Connie Douglas, the court said it would not, and could not under our constitution, decide religious disputes and rule based on differences regarding Baptist polity.
The dispute centered on whether or not the Bible is the inerrant Word of God Himself. Louisiana College, a Southern Baptist institution, proudly operates in accordance with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, which articulate the Bible's truths and whose foundation is Biblical inerrancy.
The four former professors appealed the decision of Judge Doggett last year when she dismissed all plaintiffs’ claims. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Doggett’s ruling. The case is a landmark decision for Louisiana College, religious institutions everywhere that stand upon Biblical truth, and for Louisiana Baptists who have proudly supported their only Biblically based higher education institution. The four former faculty members, Dr. Carlton Winbery, Dr. Connie Douglas, Dr. Fred Downing, and Dr. James Heath, who taught Religion and Values classes, lost their petition for academic freedom, defamation and other claims against the College.
The court’s ruling derives from the establishment clause of the First Amendment that Congress is prohibited from making any law “respecting an establishment of religion.” The court’s decision would require the court to choose sides in a dispute over Baptist Theology, which violates the establishment clause. The court has said that it does not have the power to choose which Baptist view is correct and it is impossible to rule on this dispute between religion teachers and a religious college without interpreting Baptist polity.
“We believe the Bible in all aspects. It says in Ecclesiastes 4:12, ‘A cord of three strands is not easily broken.’ Today, the court has again refused to sever the cord that has bound Louisiana College for over 100 years of teaching Biblically enlightened truth. The three strands are represented by our allegiance to Jesus Christ and His Holy Word, our mission toward academic excellence, and our precious SACS accreditation that requires our Board of Trustees to protect our Academic Freedom alongside Academic Responsibility. This cord of three strands will remain uncut and unfrazzled for eternity,” said President Joe Aguillard.
Ted Le Clercq of Deutsch and Kerrigan P. Stiles has represented Louisiana College for the eight-year journey of the historic court case. Le Clercq addressed the ruling; “While the plaintiff’s legal claims were drawn in the language of contract and tort claims, the reality of the dispute was a disagreement about faith, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 and values. Thus, the court said these religious matters were reserved for decision to Louisiana College as private religious educational institution.” Louisiana College appreciates the length, time, and attention that went into the court’s ruling.