Homosexual Reconciling Church Members Continue Legal Maneuvers Against Methodist Camp Ground After Judge's Dismissal
Legal maneuvers continue in Illinois campground dispute
Feb. 1, 2000
By Linda S. Rhodes*
CHICAGO (UMNS) -- Legal filings and confidential attempts at mediation continue in the discrimination case against the Historic Methodist Campground in Des Plaines, Ill., despite a Cook County Circuit Court judge's ruling that he has no jurisdiction over the matter.
Complaints that campground trustees discriminated against a gay couple by denying them the right to rent or buy a cottage were filed with the Cook County Commission on Human Rights last summer by Robert Carroll* and Russell Elenz*. A second complaint was filed by cottage owners Bob* and Nanette Graham*, who accused campground trustees of trying to evict them because they befriended Carroll* and Elenz*.
The Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference was named as a respondent in complaints filed by Carroll* and Elenz*.
"I included the conference because it is my understanding from looking at the (campground's) charter that it is the conference that owns and controls that campground ultimately," said Ken Dobbs, attorney for Carroll* and Elenz*. "The trustees are merely the operators of that campground. So when my clients prevail against the campground, if the campground's assets are not sufficient to pay the judgments and the attorneys' fees, then I will look to the conference."
Conference Chancellor Sam Witwer said the conference filed a response "simply saying the events at the campground were not either arranged, ordered or condoned by the conference and expressed concern about those events."
The Human Rights Commission has held two mediation sessions with all parties involved in the case. There is "a general feeling that there will be at least one more," according to Witwer.
"The purpose of the talks is to see whether something could be done on a more generalized level that would resolve these issues in dispute," Witwer said, noting that all such sessions are held in strict confidentiality.
"We all would be violating the commitment of confidentiality that is made when you go into these sessions, if we talked about what was discussed," Witwer said.
In addition to holding mediation talks, the commission referred the cases to the Illinois State Attorney's office, which filed a request last summer for a temporary restraining order and injunction against campground trustees to prevent them from evicting the Grahams* and selling their cottage.
A request to dismiss the restraining order and injunction was filed by Steve Laduzinsky, litigation attorney for the campground. The request basically alleges "that the court lacked jurisdiction over this matter because this was an internal church dispute," Laduzinsky said.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas P. Durkin granted the campground's request to dismiss the restraining order in December and ruled that the court has no legal jurisdiction over the case because of the First Amendment's guarantee of religious freedom.
"The campground raised a First Amendment defense," Dobbs said. "At first the campground was saying they wouldn't let the Carroll*-Elenz* family come into the campground because they violated campground rules and were disruptive. They said this had nothing to do with homosexuality, and I don't believe anybody believed that. When they got to court, they showed their true colors."
Dobbs said the attorney for the campground "cited one phrase out of context" from The United Methodist Book of Discipline: the sentence from the Social Principles that says the practice of homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
"The judge focused on that," Dobbs said, "and he wrote a 10-page opinion that the state attorney and I believe was not only poorly reasoned but also does not follow the Supreme Court guidelines on First Amendment issues."
Dobbs said the state attorney has filed a motion asking Durkin to reconsider his decision.
"The judge is absolutely wrong," Dobbs said. "If the judge's ruling is allowed to stand, it would be offensive to every United Methodist, because what it says is that the United Methodist Church condones discrimination based on sexual orientation. If you read further along in The Book of Discipline, it says that we do not discriminate in areas of housing and employment."
Dobbs said the state attorney has indicated that if the judge does not reconsider, the case could be appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
"Legally, right now, it's in the hands of Judge Durkin," Dobbs said. "He has to decide whether he is going to reconsider his position and reverse himself. We won't know that for several weeks."
In the meantime, Laduzinsky said he has filed a motion for "a summary judgment" dismissing all charges against the campground trustees on the basis that "this is an internal church dispute."
The hearing on that motion was originally scheduled for Feb. 9, but Laduzinsky said he is requesting a delay in order to take depositions from three individuals who have filed affidavits opposing his motion: Chicago Area Bishop C. Joseph Sprague*; the Rev. Todd Singley*, co-chair of the conference board of church and society, which conducted an investigation into charges of discrimination against the campground and found a "pattern of discrimination" against homosexuals; and Nanette Graham*.
"What's significant about how the trustees have been behaving is they have been disingenuous from the beginning," Dobbs said. "First, their attorney said this has nothing to do with homosexuality. Then, when they know they're going to lose, they try to cloak themselves in United Methodist doctrine and in the United Methodist Church. Not only that, they misrepresent the United Methodist Church, which should be offensive to every Methodist."
Dobbs said he thinks the campground trustees "should be ashamed" because "they are going into court and using United Methodist doctrine to evict a United Methodist family from their home. That's wrong. That's just wrong. There is nothing in United Methodist doctrine that tells us to do that."
Members of the Reconciling Congregations Program identified in the above story
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