A Christian student group trying to form a recognized student organization at University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG) recently found out it was not religious. How did it find this out? UNCG officials told it so.
The group, Make Up Your Own Mind (MUYOM, for short), is an explicitly Christian group dedicated to promoting its orthodox Christian views and its biblically-based beliefs regarding the sanctity of life and sexual purity. Its constitution clearly states its religious mission, its multi-point Statement of Faith, and its life-affirming and pro-abstinence views. And to maintain control over its religious identity and message, it requires its members and leaders to agree with these views.
Despite all this evidence (and more) of its religious character and mission, UNCG told MUYOM it was not a religious group. The consequences? MUYOM is denied recognition, which means it cannot access the many avenues of communication available to other recognized groups and vital to meaningful existence on campus, unless it is willing to admit students who disagree with its religious beliefs as members and leaders. Notably, UNCG does not require this of other belief-based groups, since UNCG’s policies expressly allow such groups to restrict members to students who share the groups’ beliefs, except MUYOM. This is a blatant violation of the group’s fundamental First Amendment rights. (And, in case you were wondering, Alliance Defense Fund just filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against UNCG on behalf of the group).
But, constitutionally speaking, what is even more troubling about this case is that UNCG is telling an obviously religious group that it is not religious. It appears the government knows no bounds. In recent weeks, we have seen the federal government force countless religious ministries, organizations, and business owners to violate their religious beliefs by requiring them to fund insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives. Now, the government is also arrogating to itself the power to decide whether a religious group is actually religious.
Yikes. Anyone who cares about religious liberty and its continued vitality should care about the right outcome in this case. Giving the government the power to determine whether religious groups are “sufficiently religious” to exercise their constitutionally protected rights gives it the power to cancel their rights altogether.