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A Minnesota judge has dismissed charges of fraud and negligence filed against Bethel College and Seminary by a former student upset by classroom study of sexually explicit material.

Andrea Sisam, in her suit, claimed the college violated its contract with her and other Bethel students because of the sexual content in films and literature under study. Bethel has a prohibition on the possession or use of pornographic material.

Ramsey County District Court Judge Paulette K. Flynn on April 30 ruled that Sisam's claim "is essentially an improper attack on the general quality of educational experience Bethel College provided its students." The judge declined to rule on whether the First Amendment's free expression of religion clause shielded Bethel from the suit or whether the materials in question were pornographic. The judge said dismissal is justified because the Sisam suit did not detail a verifiable "breach of contract" or fraud committed by Bethel.

APPEAL EXPECTED: Sisam's attorneys—who are also her parents—say they will very likely appeal. "The judge's ruling leaves more room for appeal than if she'd dismissed it on Bethel's argument," says Dorothy J. Buhr, Sisam's mother and attorney.

If the suit is appealed, there may need to be another plaintiff. The judge noted a potential conflict of interest by Sisam's parents acting as her attorneys.

When Sisam was a first-year student at Bethel, she was assigned to read the Battle Royal chapter of Ralph Ellison's 1952 novel Invisible Man, an award-winning examination of racism in America. In other classes, she viewed the 1989 film Do the Right Thing and several scenes with sexual situations from the 1979 film The Tin Drum, but did not see the film in its entirety. After complaining ...

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June 16, 1997

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