The freedom of religious student groups at America’s public universities is under constant attack. However, the Virginia legislature is the latest to fight back.
Way too many universities forbid religious student groups from choosing leaders and members that share their views. Many schools contend that these groups “discriminate” on the basis of religion or sexual orientation. Others have adopted so-called “all-comers” policies, which require groups to accept anyone as a leader or member, even if he or she rejects the group’s purpose, mission, positions, and perspective. Sound absurd?
Well, the real goal is to marginalize theologically orthodox Christian groups that have statements of faith and sexual conduct standards. The prevailing orthodoxy on America’s college campuses rejects (1) the exclusivity of Christ as the way of salvation; and (2) the contention that sexual intimacy outside marriage, including homosexual behavior, is immoral. And, the campus orthodoxy has little tolerance for dissenting voices. That’s why groups that have statements of faith and conduct standards are denied equal treatment.
Virginia lawmakers recently passed a bill that prevents politically correct university bureaucrats from punishing religious and political student groups that want their representatives to share their views. The bill passed the House 73-27 and the Senate 22-18. Both Republicans and Democrats voted in favor.
Foes of genuine religious freedom, like the Virginia ACLU, predictably oppose the bill. They urge Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell to veto the bill. The indispensable Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) and the Virginia Family Foundation are among those asking McDonnell to sign the bill.
The Virginia legislature is not the first to address attacks on student group freedom. Ohio enacted a law in 2011 that protects the associational freedom of religious students. The Arkansas legislature is considering similar legislation.
Last year, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam vetoed legislation that would have protected student religious groups at Vanderbilt and other private universities in the state. The Tennessee legislature is currently considering another bill that would deny private universities state “police power” if they refuse to respect student group freedom.
In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unfortunate 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, which held that a public law school did not violate the Constitution by refusing, under an “all-comers” policy, to recognize a religious student group, it is encouraging to see state legislatures take a stand for freedom. We hope that elected representatives in more states take up the cause.