An undergraduate student, who last year alleged that university officials ordered his involuntarily commitment to a psychiatric ward following a dispute over his protesting another student’s controversial theater project, filed suit in October against the university and two high-ranking officials for civil rights violations.
Discovery, the gathering of facts in the case, has been under way since the end of last month.
Senior Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media major Michael Marcavage, the plaintiff, is seeking in federal district court an unspecified amount of damages against Vice President of Campus Safety Services William Bergman and Managing Director of Campus Safety Services Carl Bittenbender.
Both defendants are being sued individually and in their official capacities. At the time relevant to the lawsuit, November 1999, Bergman was Vice President of Operations.
Also named as a defendant is the Board of Trustees, which is responsible for overseeing the affairs of Campus Safety Services and all administrative matters.
Neither the defendants nor their attorneys could be reached for comment. The university’s policy has been to decline to publicly discuss details of the case.
Temple spokeswoman Harriet Goodheart in previous statements to the press has categorically denied the charges as alleged in Marcavage’s complaint.
“This is not a matter of free speech,” said Marcavage of his decision to seek legal remedy for alleged incidents of abuse at the hands of Bergman and Bittenbender in November 1999. “It’s a matter of respect.”
According to Marcavage, his mobilizing protests against a student’s production of Terrence McNally’s play “Corpus Christi” last year set off his troubles with university authorities.
Marcavage found out that a theater student was planning an independent study project to stage the play. Marcavage decided to protest this production of “Corpus Christi,” an adaptation of the story of Jesus Christ featuring a modern-day martyr followed by gay disciples and crucified for being homosexual.
Christians, who believe that what is written in the Bible is literal truth, consider art at odds with Biblical stories offensive. Indeed Marcavage called the theater student’s project “hate speech.”
Christian, Jewish and Muslim organizations on campus and beyond supported a campaign to phone and e-mail protests to then-President Peter Liacouras and officials in the School of Communications and Theater, but the show went on. The Nov. 8 and Nov. 9, 1999, productions were not open to the public; a small, peaceful group gathered in protest outside the theater.
But Marcavage had not wanted to protest and call negative attention to the play, he said then. Instead he wanted to hold a rally, across campus, which would showcase Christianity in a positive light.
According to Marcavage and his lawsuit, Bergman had approved the staging of and funding for Marcavage’s rally. A week before the event was to take place, according to Marcavage, Bergman denied approval for the rally, which Marcavage said he already had planned.
Marcavage said he then became upset, like he was going to cry, and he excused himself from the meeting in Bergman’s office to be alone and pray.
Marcavage said, and the lawsuit outlines, when this meeting in Bergman’s office over the rally’s planning went awry, he found himself in Temple Hospital under psychiatric evaluation against his will.
As Marcavage has related his story over the last year; Bergman’s allegedly assaulting him, a police officer’s allegedly cuffing him and dragging him to a squad car, and Bittenbender’s allegedly signing papers forcing him into Temple Hospital for involuntary psychiatric evaluation. This added up to the climax in a saga of disrespectful and abusive treatment because of his religious beliefs and practices.
Temple police charged Marcavage with no crime. According to documents signed by doctors at Temple Hospital, Marcavage was not in need of psychiatric treatment and he was released from the hospital.
When he failed to secure from Bergman, Bittenbender or their superiors’ acknowledgment of alleged violations of his rights, Marcavage turned to the court.
The complaint Marcavage’s attorney Brian Fahling filed a year later in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania alleges that Marcavage’s civil and constitutional rights under the First, Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments were violated.
Fahling, of the American Family Association’s Center for Law and Policy, of Tupelo, Miss., represents Christians in state and federal cases involving constitutional rights, especially free speech and free exercise of religion.
Marcavage believes he was targeted for abuse and his subsequent complaints to then-President Peter Liacouras were ignored because he is an outspoken conservative Christian who considers it is his religious duty to evangelize, or publicly proclaim the tenets of his faith.
It is unclear whether any pattern of persecution against literalist Christian organizations exists at Temple. But Marcavage is not the only evangelical individual to have run into disputes with Campus Safety Services officers and officials.