- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

(AP) A federal judge yesterday dismissed a lawsuit by a George Mason University fraternity that claimed its constitutional rights were infringed when it was expelled from campus for hazing and other violations.

The Sigma Chi chapter at George Mason sued the Fairfax school last year, claiming the university’s actions violated its members’ rights to free speech and freedom of assembly. The fraternity also argued about a lack of due process, claiming deans at the school rigged the system against them.

The university had since been dropped as a defendant, though the lawsuit still named President Alan G. Merten and top officials. At a hearing yesterday, U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema ruled in their favor.

“I am satisfied that the plaintiffs have not suffered any deprivation of their constitutional rights,” Judge Brinkema said.

The lawsuit turned particularly nasty in recent weeks, with charges and countercharges about the integrity of fraternity members and university officials.

The university submitted video evidence showing a fraternity leader vomiting after a drinking game. The fraternity, meanwhile, cited a photo on the Web site collegehumor.com that seemed to show Mr. Merten playing a drinking game called “beer pong” with members of a different fraternity.

A university spokesman denied that the photo depicted any wrongdoing.

During yesterday’s hearing, Judge Brinkema chided both sides, saying they “have been engaged in a certain kind of vitriol that was not necessary.”

The university expelled the Sigma Chi chapter in 2006 for violations including hazing, providing alcohol to minors and twice “sponsoring a party under conditions that resulted in sexual assault on a female guest.”

The fraternity said the hazing claims were based on nothing more than marching on campus and singing the fraternity anthem “Hark! the Sigs.” The fraternity said everybody who marched and sang did so voluntarily, and attempting to restrict such actions violates their First Amendment rights.

The fraternity also disputed that sexual assaults occurred. Two fraternity members were found guilty by a school administrative body of assaults in 2005, but criminal charges were never filed.

Lawyers for George Mason said the fraternity was expelled for numerous bad acts and wrote in court papers that “no other student organization recognized by the university committed as many serious violations of the student judicial code as the [Sigma Chi] chapter in a one-year period.”

The fraternity’s lawyer, Tamara Tucker, said after yesterday’s hearing that she wanted to discuss the ruling with the fraternity before deciding whether to appeal. According to court documents, the fraternity chapter expects to lose its charter entirely if the expulsion stands.

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