Since the 2010 Supreme Court case Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, American universities have been struggling to find a balance between religious organizations on campus, and their nondiscrimination policies.
The court case upheld, against a First Amendment challenge, that University of California campus groups must accept all students, regardless of their status or beliefs, in order to obtain school recognition (and therefore funding and access to school facilities). The precedent has led to struggles across the country, from Vanderbilt to UNC, where religious campus organizations have insisted that their members or leaders maintain particular religious beliefs.
In the words of Joshua Charles, who co-authored “The Original Argument” with Glenn Beck, “It seems difficult to imagine a scenario in which any religious group could, without any infringement whatsoever, worship and practice freely if they cannot even make decisions on their own membership or leadership…Groups are formed in order to advance causes, ideals, or something of the sort. But if the integrity of that group cannot be maintained, then neither can the causes or ideals for which it was founded in the first place.”
Below, watch Charles discuss his opinion about the issues associated with this scenario:
The most recent news on the controversy may give some hope to those who find the struggle absurd.
Roughly a year ago, UNC-Greensboro determined that the pro-abstinence, anti-abortion Christian organization “Make Up Your Own Mind” didn’t qualify as a religious organization, and “therefore must allow students of other religions and belief systems to become leaders and members as a condition to being a recognized group.”
Unlike the University of California, UNC-Greensboro has an exception for both political and religious groups, allowing them to make certain beliefs a condition of joining. This means that, while at the University of California, an atheist must be eligible to be the leader of a Christian campus organization, if UNC-Greensboro has recognized the organization as religious, it has much more control over such matters.
“Make Up Your Own Mind,” specifically wanted group members to adhere to a Christian statement of faith, but since the university classified them as “not religious,” they were unable to do this.
In early March, the Christian legal group “Alliance Defense Fund” stepped in to file a suit on behalf of the Christian organization. “Saying that a Christian club isn’t religious is flatly absurd,” Legal Counsel Jeremy Tedesco declared.
Now, UNC-Greensboro is revising its earlier ruling.
“We have apologized to (the group) for the delay in determining their status and notified them that we are granting the organization recognition,” university spokeswoman Helen Dennison Hebert wrote in an email Tuesday.
Though members are appreciative that they are now classified as a religious group on campus, the Alliance Defense Fund’s Jeremy Tedesco reminded, “The critical thing is that the policies allow [universities] to second-guess a religious group’s claims about being religious.”
Though the university has amended its stance this time, the underlying issue is far from resolved. There is still a precedent for challenging religious organizations on campus, and not everyone will have the resources and patience to battle a university for such a long period of time.