Georgetown University President Timothy S. Healy took the stand in D.C. Superior Court yesterday to defend his university's policy of denying recognition to homosexual student groups.
Two homosexual student organizations sued Georgetown after the school denied them the right to receive funds for campus activities. The organizations claim that action violated the 1977 D.C. Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
A Superior Court judge ruled last March that Georgetown had violated the law, but did not resolve the school's argument that its policy was based on religious teachings and therefore protected under the First Amendment.
Healy, who testified for 2 1/2 hours yesterday before Judge Sylvia Bacon, said recognition of the homosexual groups would mean endorsement of the groups, something that would "contradict" the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Attorneys Ronald E. Bogard and Leonard Graff, who represent the students, have argued that it is discriminatory for Georgetown to reject the homosexual groups while it grants recognition to women's and Jewish groups, which also do not adhere to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
Under cross-examination by Bogard, Healy acknowledged that chartering Jewish groups does not mean university endorsement of Judaism. But later, under questioning by Charles Wilson, an attorney representing the school, Healy said the recognition does not violate the teachings of the Catholic Church.
"Other faiths are carriers of grace," Healy said, "and, as such, are good."
Healy compared Georgetown's stand on the gay organizations to other actions which he said the school has taken to fulfill the moral teachings of the Catholic Church, the most recent being his decision earlier this week to cancel a campus celebration of the founding of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
He also compared his decision on the homosexual groups to the university's policy of not allowing the hospital there to perform abortions.
Asked about the school's recognition of women's groups which promote the women's rights movement and may promote abortion and birth control, Healy said the school's endorsement of the general purposes of the groups "no more bears upon abortion and birth control than endorsement . . . of the Wine Tasting Society bears on drunkenness."
The case, which is expected to conclude next week, is a clash of First Amendment rights that observers expect will not be settled at the Superior Court level.
It is the first test of the "sexual orientation" protections afforded by the Human Rights Act, and has drawn the D.C. Corporation Counsel's office into the case in support of the students. Bogard and Graff have argued that if Georgetown prevails in this case, the act's protections would be gutted.
The student groups are expected to begin their case today, with closing arguments expected on Monday. Bacon has not indicated when she will issue a ruling.