Recently California State University schools “derecognized” the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. Student organizations must be registered with the university system to receive nominal benefits that include free use of facilities to meet (when classes are not in session), to be officially represented at student activities, and to have standing to engage administrators, faculty, and other students. There are twenty-three schools in the system.
The CSU system has a policy that mandates recognized student organizations must have open membership rules and allow election of officers that complies with CSU non-discriminatory requirements. IVCF requires its elected officers to adhere to Christian beliefs and practices. An LGBT student would not be electable to leadership in the IVCF and that is a violation of the CSU system’s non-discriminatory policy.
This does not prevent IVCF from pursuing any evangelistic activities, but National Field Director & Campus Access Coordinator Greg Jao said, “loss of recognition is a significant impediment.” This is not the first instance of discrimination of Christian student organizations on university campuses in the name of non-discrimination. The Christian Legal Society faced a similar situation a few years ago at the University of California’s Hastings School of Law.
If CSU schools were privately funded with donations and student tuition it would be a no brainer. A private school should not be forced to recognize student organizations the school opposes. It is a different matter when we are considering a university system that uses tax dollars to make student tuition more affordable.
Assuming CSU schools are supported by tax dollars allowing Christian organizations the same nominal benefits as other student organizations is no different than public high schools that are required to allow Christian clubs the same access as any other student club such as a chess club, or LGBT club. Recognition of the IVCF’s autonomy in conducting its affairs would not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Speaking from strictly a legal standpoint the question is, can a public school supported by tax dollars adopt unconstitutional policies to prevent the “free exercise of religion?” Can a university system enforce unconstitutional, discriminatory practices? Since the CSU system’s policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of religion, must the Muslim Student Association permit a non-Muslim to run for its leadership?
Obviously, such policies could have sweeping influence beyond the CSU system. Every student organization or association, on every university campus in our nation, exists to promote its stated interests. Should schools be trying to determine what policies are or are not adopted autonomously by various student organizations and associations if those policies are lawful?
Proverbs 18:17 tells us, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” I think we need to examine what is going on in California’s state university system.