A Table on the Campus
Q: Our club requires that members sign a lengthy ‘Statement of Faith’ and refrain from certain activity outside of marriage. We exclude students who hold religious convictions different from those in the Statement.
Meanwhile, our school sponsors a program of registered student organizations (RSOs). Most of the funds come from a required annual student activity fee. The school has denied registration to our club – saying that a RSO must allow any student to participate, regardless of status or beliefs.
Sure enough, when we attempted to set up an advice table on a campus patio, and then to reserve a room on campus for a guest speaker, we got a perpetual run-around.
A: One assumes that the school is trying to implement a policy of not tolerating discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, age, sex or sexual orientation – or even viewpoint in general.
Seemingly, a rule against viewpoint discrimination can backfire – e.g., when a religious group is not permitted to express its viewpoint by limiting membership to students who share that viewpoint. Although there is a strong interest in prohibiting religious discrimination where religion is irrelevant, it seems somewhat queer to apply a rule against religious discrimination to a religious association.
One could say that an accept-all-comers policy is antithetical to the diversity that seemingly ought to flourish among student organizations. Surely, a group’s First Amendment right of expressive association is burdened by the forced inclusion of members whose presence would affect in a significant way the group’s ability to function.
Perhaps it is a reasonable accommodation for you to tone down your approach. You could scrap your entrance policy in favor of an exit rule: that a student who exhibits a consistent disregard and lack of respect for the objective of the organization must forfeit his or her membership. This might well cost you little but pass muster with the school and with the courts.
If you cannot in good conscience agree to admit persons who do not share your faith, then please be advised that a school’s accept-all-comers policy is presently tolerated by our courts – unless there are circumstances that you have neglected to tell me.
By: Scott Baron,
Attorney at Law Advertorial
The law responds to changed conditions; exceptions and variations abound. Here, the information is general; always seek out competent counsel. This article shall not be construed as legal advice.
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