January 2001 – Officials at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, allegedly had student Michael A. Marcavage involuntarily committed to a state mental hospital after he initiated a Christian response to a blasphemous play performed on campus. Marcavage is being represented by the AFA Center for Law & Policy (CLP) in a lawsuit.
Marcavage was a junior at the university in the fall of 1999, when he discovered that the Temple University Theater Department would be performing the play Corpus Christi on campus. Corpus Christi inflamed Christians around the country, and especially in New York City, when it was first performed on Broadway in 1998. The play depicts Jesus as a homosexual who has sex with his disciples, and was crucified for being "king of the queers."
According to his prepared statement, Marcavage immediately complained to the dean of the School of Communications and Theater, as well as to the president of the university, informing them of the nature of the play. In addition, Marcavage said that he posted fliers "so that all Christians on campus would be aware of this horrible play."
Marcavage met on a number of occasions with Vice President of Campus Safety William Bergman and Director of Campus Safety Carl Bittenbender. After Bergman repeatedly expressed his concern that protests outside the theater might lead to a confrontation between different factions of the student body, Marcavage said he agreed not to promote a protest.
Instead, he selected a different approach to Corpus Christi's blasphemous message. He asked for and received permission from Bergman to stage a Christian outreach to the student community at Temple.
According to Marcavage, Bergman promised that a stage would be provided to facilitate the outreach. The same day, however, Bittenbender called Marcavage to inform him that a stage now might be out of the question. The junior was asked to meet with Bittenbender and Bergman at the vice president's office the next morning.
At the meeting Bergman said that a stage would be too expensive to provide. When Marcavage offered to pay for the stage, Bergman refused to give further explanation for the decision. Upset, Marcavage excused himself, went to the bathroom, locked the door and prayed about what he should do next.
Marcavage said the next thing he knew, Bergman was pounding on the door, demanding that the student come out and continue the discussion. Marcavage said he opened the door and "told him that I believed our conversation was over."
The junior said Bergman physically forced him back into the office and "pushed me into a chair and held me with his arm." When Marcavage said he wanted to leave, Bergman allegedly refused to allow it. Attempting to rise, he said the vice president tripped him to the floor, and then Bergman and Bittenbender manhandled him to the couch, where they held him down.
Marcavage said moments later, a Temple University police officer arrived and handcuffed the junior. Eventually Marcavage was taken by police car to the Emergency Crisis Center at Temple University Hospital.
At the crisis center, Bittenbender allegedly signed a statement making some stunning allegations: that Marcavage was "severely mentally disabled;" represented a "clear and present danger to others;" that the junior had "inflicted or attempted to inflict serious bodily harm on another" within the past 30 days; and that Marcavage "has attempted suicide" and there was a "reasonable probability of suicide unless treatment was afforded" by the emergency crisis center. Bittenbender's statement concluded that Marcavage was "in need of involuntary examination and treatment."
According to documents provided by Marcavage, however, the junior was examined at the crisis center by Dr. Jose Villaluz, who noted in his written report that Marcavage was "not in need of involuntary treatment" and ordered the student's release--three hours after first arriving.
Subsequent to the junior's being handcuffed--but prior to being placed in the squad car--Marcavage had also apparently been observed by Dr. Denise Walton, a Temple University staff psychologist. In a separate document, Dr. Walton said she also had seen no overt sign that the student was about to harm himself or others.
An attempt to file a police report at the Temple University police station concerning his ordeal was rebuffed. Marcavage said police at first refused to file a charge against Bergman because the vice president was "our boss." Then Bittenbender entered the room, and told Marcavage that no report would be filed, because no crime had been committed. His only recourse was to file a report with the Philadelphia Police Department.
After subsequent attempts to complain through university channels failed, Marcavage sought help from the CLP.
CLP Senior Trial Attorney Brian Fahling, who is handling the case, said, "This kid is as solid as a rock. Besides being a college student on the Dean's List, Michael was a White House intern with security clearance, is founder and president of a ministry called Protect the Children, president of his own business, and a volunteer who has worked with Campus Crusade for Christ and gone overseas with Feed the Children," Fahling said. "This is a good Christian kid who wanted to stand up for Jesus, and instead was handcuffed and dragged to a mental hospital as if he'd been seeing pink elephants."
The CLP lawsuit targets Temple University, as well as Bergman and Bittenbender, charging the defendants with depriving Marcavage of his civil and constitutional rights. Criminal charges related to the incident have also been lodged.