Court Upholds Dismissal of Professors’ Lawsuit Against Louisiana College

A state appellate court in Louisiana has affirmed a lower court’s dismissal of a long-running lawsuit brought by four former professors at Louisiana College, a Southern Baptist institution in Pineville, La. The appellate ruling held that the issues in the lawsuit amounted to a religious dispute in which the court could not intervene.

The lawsuit, filed in December 2005 when the four professors were active faculty members, alleged that the college’s president, Joe Aguillard, and other officials had defamed them, precluded their advancement, violated their academic freedom and provisions of the Faculty Handbook, and breached the terms of a settlement agreement that had ended an earlier lawsuit. The professors have all either retired or resigned from Louisiana College since the second lawsuit was filed.

The professors’ complaint stemmed in part from a dispute over books they wanted to use in their classes on religion and values. The college banned some of the books and put in place a textbook-review policy, but later rescinded the policy after being placed on probation by its accreditor.

In an opinion issued on November 6, the Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Third Circuit agreed with the college’s argument that deciding the validity of the plaintiffs’ claims “would require a court to determine the truth or falsity of certain religious beliefs” and would violate “the constitutional protections against government entanglement with religion found in the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause.”

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