Looking for some good news for religious organizations that seek to exercise their right to select voting members and leaders on the basis of their religious beliefs? Then look no further than ADF’s recent settlement of a lawsuit we filed on behalf of a Christian student group at the University of North Carolina Greensboro (UNCG). The group, called Make Up Your Own Mind (MUYOM), seeks to promote biblical teachings regarding the sanctity of human life and abstinence before marriage, all in an effort to help students avoid unplanned pregnancies and, if such a pregnancy occurs, to encourage them to make a life-affirming choice regarding their unborn child. The group draws its mission, beliefs, and views from the Bible. Like most belief-based private groups, MUYOM requires its voting members and leaders to agree with its religious beliefs to maintain control over its mission and expression.
As I described in an earlier post, despite clear evidence of the group’s Christian identity and beliefs, UNCG denied MUYOM recognition because it determined that it was not religious and thus did not qualify for a belief-based exemption UNCG provides to its nondiscrimination policy. This exemption permits groups formed to promote a certain set of beliefs to require their members and leaders to share those beliefs, and still obtain recognition and the vital access it provides to get their messages out on campus. Under the exemption, UNCG would not condition requests for recognition from the Democrat club, the Planned Parenthood club, or an animal rights club on their willingness to open membership and leadership to students who disagree with their core beliefs, yet that is exactly what UNCG was demanding of MUYOM.
Thankfully, UNCG changed course shortly after we filed suit. The university has granted MUYOM recognition, while permitting the group to maintain its religious belief-based membership and leadership criteria. Further, as part of settlement, the university agreed that the belief-based exemption to its nondiscrimination policy permits religious (and nonreligious) groups to restrict members and leaders to the groups’ beliefs, and that the ”nature, depth or type of the group’s beliefs (whether they are religious, political or other) will not be a factor in determining whether a group receives recognition.”
The settlement ensures that religious and nonreligious student groups at UNCG will be able to exercise their First Amendment associational rights to impose belief-based criteria when selecting the people who control and lead them. UNCG’s positive response to our lawsuit, and its commitment to respecting the associational rights of student groups on its campus, is a perfect counterpoint to Vanderbilt University’s much-reported-on and unfortunate assault on the associational rights of religious student groups at its university. Rather than fixating on Vanderbilt’s trampling of religious groups’ associational rights, let’s take a moment to commend a university that respects them and encourages others to follow suit.