Student's protest of homosexual play leads to suit against Temple Univ.

by Cheryl K. Chumley, posted Monday, January 15, 2001 (13 years ago)

WASHINGTON (BP)--A Temple University student who protested a theatrical depiction of Jesus Christ as a homosexual and subsequently was allegedly forced to undergo a mental evaluation is seeking punitive damages against the school officials who reportedly tried to commit him to the psychiatric ward, CNSNews.com reported.

The process is in the discovery stages now and tentatively slated for court by 2002, said Brian Fahling, a senior trial attorney for American Family Association Law Center in Mississippi.

At issue is whether university officials violated then-junior Michael Anthony Marcavage's civil rights when he reportedly attempted to offer fellow students an option to the planned production of "Corpus Christi," a New York play that has stirred media attention by featuring a homosexual Jesus Christ.

"Temple University unequivocally denies the allegations Mr. Marcavage has set forth in his lawsuit," Harriet K. Goodheart, Temple's acting director of communications, told CNSNews.com.

Goodheart said she could not comment on specifics because the case was currently "in litigation," and one of the named defendants -- Vice President of Operations William Bergman -- did not return a telephone call to CNSNews.com.

The controversy began in the fall of 1999, when the student theater department decided to produce a version of the Broadway play that included a portrayal of Jesus Christ as the "king of queers" and pointed to his sex with disciples as the reason for the crucifixion.

Marcavage, according to his attorney, Fahling, asked university officials for permission to launch a "counter-production" to portray "Christ and who he really is" from a more traditional Christian perspective.

"He received permission from the university to do that, and the university said they were going to erect a stage" for his play, Fahling continued.

On Nov. 2, 1999, however, a week before both plays were scheduled to debut, Marcavage was reportedly told by Bergman and Managing Director of Campus Safety Services Carl Bittenbender to cancel because of lack of funds for a staging area.

"Michael was upset, he went to the bathroom to think about [the cancellation] for a few minutes, and then ... these officials came and escorted him back to the office and seated him down in the chair," Fahling said.

Marcavage "got up to leave" because he believed the conversation had already ended, but was "pushed to the floor, then handcuffed and taken to the Temple University Hospital psychiatric ward ... and committed," Fahling continued.

"Bittenbender [swore] Michael demonstrated a clear and present danger to harm himself and others, that he has threatened others and threatened suicide," he said. "The doctor evaluated Michael and saw no reason why he was committed," and subsequently discharged him.

In November 2000, Marcavage filed suit against the school, naming Bittenbender and Bergman as separate defendants and seeking unspecified punitive damages.

According to the original complaint filed by Fahling, Marcavage has alleged he was falsely imprisoned, suffered emotional distress, and that a number of his state and constitutional rights were violated.


Chumley is a staff writer with CNSnews.com. Used by permission.