RALEIGH, N.C. — The University of North Carolina at Greensboro said a Christian student group will be recognized as a campus organization after the school previously denied it official status and a legal group stepped in to sue on its behalf, officials said Tuesday.
The school previously told the pro-abstinence, anti-abortion group Make Up Your Own Mind they didn't qualify as a religious organization that could restrict membership to students with shared beliefs. Groups with official access would be able to access university facilities and funding.
That prompted the Christian legal group Alliance Defense Fund last month to file a lawsuit for the student group.
"We have apologized to (the group) for the delay in determining their status and notified them that we are granting the organization recognition" subject to getting an updated contact list and signed set of bylaws, university spokeswoman Helen Dennison Hebert wrote in an email Tuesday.
Last year, the university told the group it did not meet the qualifications to be a religious or political organization. The group, which is affiliated with a local crisis pregnancy center, wants its members to adhere to a Christian statement of faith, something that recognized religious organizations may do under a university policy.
"We certainly appreciate them doing the right thing after 10 or so months of denying the group recognition," said Jeremy Tedesco, an Alliance Defense Fund lawyer representing the organization.
Tedesco said lawyers for Make Up Your Own Mind had yet to receive formal legal confirmation that the university will grant recognition to the group, and that decisions about the state of the lawsuit will have to wait until that happens.
After the lawsuit was filed, the university conducted an investigation of its policy and determined that the student group had been denied because of a misinterpretation of the university's non-discrimination policy, Herbert said in the statement.
"The University of North Carolina at Greensboro supports the open and free expression of our students, faculty, staff, and guests through many methods, including a strong, vibrant and diverse set of student organizations," Hebert wrote. There are currently about 200 active student groups with official status at the university.
The problem goes deeper than a misunderstanding of existing policy, though, Tedesco said.
"The critical thing is that the policies allow them to second-guess a religious group's claims about being religious," he said.
This isn't the first time a North Carolina university has struggled with how to accommodate anti-discrimination provisions and student groups organized around a shared set of beliefs. Last year, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill said Christian singing group Psalm 100 did not violate school regulations by expelling a gay member. The group said he wasn't expelled over his sexual identity, but because he no longer held the belief that the Bible and traditional Christian teaching restrict sex to heterosexual marriage.
UNC Chapel Hill subsequently announced plans to review its anti-discrimination policies regarding student groups.