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A Nassau County judge has dismissed a breach of implied contract action brought by a man expelled from a Roman Catholic seminary after he criticized the school for allegedly promoting “pro-gay” literature and using sexually inappropriate references in class. State Supreme Court Justice Anthony L. Parga determined that the Seminary of Immaculate Conception’s “inherent power” to operate its religious education program, coupled with the student’s “repeated refusal” to accept the school’s authority, justified its decision to expel William J. Downey, who was pursuing a master’s in theology. The judge in Downey v. Schneider, 845-03, therefore granted the seminary’s motion for summary judgment and denied Downey’s motion for sanctions and costs. Monday’s decision follows a ruling in July that denied the seminary’s motion to dismiss. At that time, Parga determined that subject matter jurisdiction over Downey’s cause of action for breach of implied warranty could proceed, since the defendants had made no evidentiary showing as to why he was expelled, allegedly without an explanation. However, Parga’s ruling last summer also dismissed Downey’s misrepresentation and negligence claims, finding that the First Amendment prohibited his court from interfering with causes of action grounded in a religious dispute. Other defendants included five priests and the Diocese of Rockville Centre. Downey, whose affidavit stated that he was a former mergers and acquisitions consultant prior to entering the master’s program at age 55, alleged that the school located in Huntington promoted “pro-gay and lesbian books,” including “Religion is a Queer Thing.” He also contended that the word “PECKER,” used as an acronym to help students memorize key historical points in biblical Israel, was prominently displayed in his co-ed Introduction to the Bible course. Exhibits in the case included a flurry of written correspondence from April 2001 to August 2002 among Downey, administrators at the seminary, and Bishop William J. Murphy of Rockville Centre, regarding Downey’s concerns about course content. At one point, Downey suggested that course materials should include research showing that homosexuals have an increased proclivity toward violence, a suggestion based on scholarship that school officials questioned. In several letters, officials told Downey they would discuss his concerns with other administrators. But the correspondence, while cordial, appeared to become increasingly heated. The letters reveal that Downey grew impatient with what he perceived as the seminary’s delay in addressing his concerns, and in a letter dated July 9, 2002, he wrote that he would “go to the media and other public venues in hopes of enlisting the laity’s support.” WITHDRAWAL REQUESTED About two weeks later, Bishop Murphy wrote a letter suggesting to Downey that he withdraw from the master’s program, since it seemed to cause him “a great deal of upset and anger.” A letter from Downey followed, in which he wrote that “instead of me broadcasting these problems,” he urged a meeting to resolve them. On Aug. 6, 2002, the rector of the seminary, Monsignor Francis J. Schneider, wrote Downey a letter stating that “in accord with the Bishop Murphy’s wishes,” the seminary no longer considered him an active student. Downey’s lawsuit alleged that the seminary’s decision to expel him was without any justification since he allegedly never disrupted class and maintained a sufficiently high grade point average. SEMINARY’S AUTHORITY Justice Parga’s analysis began with the principle that New York courts acknowledge an implied contract exists when students are admitted to universities, so long as they comply with the schools’ prescribed terms. However, the judge also noted that courts have exercised the “utmost restraint” in applying traditional legal rules to such disputes. The standard for expulsion, Parga observed, is the school’s honest discretion based on facts within its knowledge, which a court generally cannot review. As such, the judge concluded that the seminary had made a prima facie showing that its decision was not arbitrary or made in bad faith by submitting “voluminous evidence” of the correspondence. “The Seminary has the inherent power and discretion to dismiss the plaintiff from its master’s program in theology, and the plaintiff’s repeated refusal to accept the Seminary’s religious authority in conjunction with his threats to publicly criticize and attack the Seminary justified the exercise of the Seminary’s discretion to expel him as a student,” the judge wrote. John F. Picciano of Picciano & Scahill in Garden City represented Downey. Kevin P. McDonough of Spellman, Walsh, Rice, Schure & Markus in Garden City represented the defendants.

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