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Image of Wayne State University's Old Main
Wayne State University's Old Main; image courtesy of Del arte via Wikimedia Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org

A student organization at Wayne State University was recently decertified “for requiring its leadership to agree to a statement of beliefs,” according to a new lawsuit. The suit itself was filed on yesterday in federal court, and claims “Wayne State stripped the university’s chapter of InterVarsity of official student organization status illegally.”

It didn’t take long for InterVarsity to gain support from individuals and organizations working hard to protect religious freedom, including Lori Windham. Windham is a “senior legal counsel at Becket, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that focuses on religious freedom,” and is now representing InterVarsity in their lawsuit. When discussing the case, she said, “asking religious leaders to practice what they preach isn’t discrimination, it’s integrity…Targeting one Christian group that’s served the campus for over 75 years, while giving itself and dozens of larger groups a pass, is truly discriminatory.”

Since becoming aware of the lawsuit, Wayne State made it clear that it stands by its decision, and issued the following statement:

“The university is obliged and committed to protecting the constitutional and religious rights of everyone on our campus…Attaining official student organization status is a privilege rather than a right, and is conditional on compliance with our policy of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity…We have taken every step possible to minimize the impact of the decertification on the group, and we approached InterVarsity last December with an offer to work on a resolution to this matter. Our offer still stands. Any such solution will be guided by our desire to reinstate the group’s organization status while adhering to our nondiscrimination policy.”

Image of a cross
Cross; image courtesy of analogicus via Pixabay, www.pixabay.com, CC0.

The issue that prompted the lawsuit began in 2017 when the university launched a new online registration system for student organizations. When InterVarsity registered it also uploaded the group’s constitution. According to the lawsuit:

“The constitution makes clear that InterVarsity welcomes all students, regardless of religious beliefs, as members, but asks that InterVarsity’s student leadership embrace the organization’s religious mission. This is a matter of basic institutional integrity. To remain in existence and to carry out its mission — to be the ‘InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’ — InterVarsity must have leaders who themselves embrace and follow InterVarsity’s mission. InterVarsity’s Bible studies, prayers, worship, and religious service would be hollow, inauthentic, and unlikely to endure if it did not require its leaders to share its basic organizational mission and guiding purpose.”

Shortly after the organization registered, the group’s leaders were notified that “its recognition was being stripped because the constitution’s requirement that leaders share the chapter’s faith was inconsistent with the school’s nondiscrimination code.” Ever since being decertified, the Christian group has been “unable to reserve free meeting rooms, host free tables for interested students, appear on the website where students may go to learn more about student organizations, apply for funding available to recognized student groups, or receive any other benefits granted to other recognized student groups,” according to the lawsuit. However, that hasn’t stopped the group from meeting on campus once a month, even though they have to pay a rental fee of $100 per room every time it meets.

Understandably the university’s actions have other members of the “national organization…worried” that other chapters may be decertified. In the lawsuit, the organization’s leadership stated:

“Since InterVarsity has been derecognized, and its constitution is identical in relevant respects to the constitutions used at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan, and other state university campuses, InterVarsity USA fears that other chapters will be derecognized as well, particularly if WSU attempts to justify its actions on the basis of state law.”

Sources:

Lawsuit: Wayne State decertified Christian student group because of beliefs

Christian student group sues Wayne State University after status revoked

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