Religious clubs face hurdles on campuses

Published: Tuesday, April 12 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

On-campus religious groups are often targeted by public universities, according to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE. This map shows the schools that pitted nondiscrimination policies against religious student groups over the last decade.


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In the spring of 2004, Dina Haddad went to an administrator at Hastings, a law school in San Francisco, to get approval for a new campus club. Haddad was the vice president of the Hastings chapter of the Christian Legal Society — a national group of Christian lawyers, judges and law students that professed to "proclaim, love and serve Jesus Christ through the study and practice of law." Haddad wanted CLS to get recognized by Hastings as an official student organization. But when she met with the school's director of student services she was handed a copy of the university's nondiscrimination policy. The message was clear: Christian groups like CLS weren't welcome on campus.

That simple encounter was the beginning of a classic case of conflict between a university's nondiscrimination policies and a student religious group's freedom to define itself.

Six years later, on June 28, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States decided the case of Christian Legal Society v. Martinez. The ruling gave public universities an almost bulletproof way to apply nondiscrimination policies that could force religious student groups on campus to admit not only gay students, but atheists and other people who have different religious views. But adopting the same policy as Hastings and enforcing it may have the effect of marginalizing some groups such as evangelicals and Orthodox Jewish congregations.

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, in his dissent, called the majority decision of the court "a serious setback for freedom of expression in this country."

Universities accusing Christian groups of discrimination are not uncommon. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is a nonprofit educational foundation that monitors erosion of individual rights at America's universities. These are a few of the cases FIRE has followed over the last decade:

At Ball State University the Christian Student Foundation was required to put language into its constitution (that they would not discriminate on the basis of "religion" and "sexual orientation") that violated their biblical beliefs.

At Boise State University, student activity fee funding was denied for religious groups.

At California State University-San Bernardino, the Christian Student Association couldn't get recognition because they required members to ascribe to the group's religious faith.

At Cornell University, the Chi Alpha Christian Fellowship had its funding frozen after it asked an openly gay member to step down for refusing to accept the club's views on sex outside of marriage.

At Pennsylvania State University-University Park, the Young Americans for Freedom were initially denied recognition for religious discrimination because their constitution mentioned "God-given" rights.

Wright State University refused to recognize Campus Bible Fellowship because they required voting members to "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior."

Ohio State University said that because the Muslim Student Association, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Christian Graduate Student Alliance, Campus Crusade for Christ, Mosaic, Reformed Christian Students, the Christian Medical Dental Association, Student Christian Fellowship and International Friendships used religious criteria for determining membership and leadership, they were in violation of the university's policy against discrimination on basis of religion.

Greg Lukianoff is president of FIRE and considers himself a non-religious person. He said that when he began working at FIRE he noticed the disdain universities seemed to have for evangelicals. "This weird bending-over-backward to justify excluding or de-recognizing evangelical Christian groups has been one of the biggest surprises of my career, but I see it on a fairly routine basis."

The sticking point for the University of California, Hastings College of the Law was CLS's restrictions on membership.

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