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Judge Recuses Herself in Theatrical Swearing Case

ABC 4 Utah, USA
March 4, 2004 • Friday March 5, 2004

A federal judge who dismissed the lawsuit of a former acting student who accused the University of Utah of anti-Mormon bias has removed herself from the case after her decision was reversed.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell recused herself last month without explanation after the successful appeal.

The case has been reassigned to Chief Judge Dee Benson. No hearing date has been set.

Christina Axson-Flynn, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, claimed the university violated her freedoms of speech and religion four years ago when she feared retaliation from professors.

While a freshman in the university’s Actor Training Program, she refused to recite lines that contained the F-word or took “the Lord’s name in vain.”

She said it was clear she would be asked to leave the university’s acting program for not reciting the lines she believed violated her religious teachings.

Campbell dismissed Axson-Flynn’s lawsuit in 2001, saying the offending words were part of a drama curriculum that did not take a position on religion and required the use of profane language only as an academic exercise.

But last month, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals remanded the case to trial.

In reversing Campbell’s decision, the 10th Circuit judges said statements construed by Axson-Flynn as anti-Mormon raised questions about the faculty’s motive: were they demanding that she say the lines to fulfill the curriculum or as a pretext for religious discrimination?

The judges also wrote that Axson-Flynn successfully raised questions about whether the faculty treated everyone the same or had consistent policies. They said the record showed some students were exempted from requirements, as when a Jewish student was allowed to miss class on a holiday.

The judges also noted that Axson-Flynn said she sometimes got out of reciting lines she found offensive and other times didn’t.

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