Once again, a public university was under fire for requiring a Christian group on campus to follow the same rules as everyone else.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship filed a lawsuit against Wayne State University (in Michigan) this week after the school revoked its status as a official campus group. Not having that recognition meant IVCF couldn’t get a table at new student orientations, free meeting space in classrooms, certain kinds of funding, etc. It’s a big deal.
The reason for the revocation? IVCF was told they were breaking school rules by requiring their leaders to share their Christian beliefs. That apparently violates the anti-discrimination policies held by the school.
That sounds silly. Of course a Christian club should be led by Christians. Isn’t that what every group does? By saying the Christians couldn’t do that, it seemed like IVCF was being selectively discriminated against, as they pointed out in the lawsuit:
Wayne State rightly allows fraternities to have only male leaders, female athletic clubs to have only female leaders, and African-American clubs to have only African-American leaders. But Wayne State cannot then say it is wrong for a Christian club to have only Christian leaders.
The Christian Post went a bit further:
According to Becket, the university recognizes over 400 student groups. The university allows the Secular Student Alliance to require its leaders be secularists and allows the Students for Life chapter to require that its students be pro-life.
Here’s where some nuance helps. The Christians don’t seem to understand the difference between requiring members to share their religion and supporting their mission.
The SSA group at Wayne State has a mission to “promote secular values.” But that doesn’t mean only atheists are eligible to run the group. I know that because I asked the group’s president, Bismah Jamshed, if that was true and the response was a clear “Nope.”
The Secular Student Alliance states that anyone is welcomed to be a part of the organization, and lead it if they are voted to be on the board. We always have a wide variety of students at our meetings, both secular and not. Everyone is encouraged to be a part of the group, and we actually really appreciate those who are not secular being a part of the group.
Anyone is eligible to run the group. It’s up to members to decide who those people will be, and the assumption here is that members will vote for people who further the group’s mission.
The national SSA reiterated that in a tweet:
.@waynestate derecognized InterVarsity because of a discriminatory policy. @IamSamSmith reports SSA chapter has the same policy. Not true – all are welcomed at the SSA chapter. #equality & #inclusion #ffrf @hemantmehta @ChristianPost https://t.co/i4IJwpvD3j
— Secular Students (@SecularStudents) March 8, 2018
IVCF, on the other hand, was explicitly saying that you had to be a Christian (a particular kind of Christian to boot) to run for their officer positions.
So there was a difference.
The comparisons to other groups would only be valid if, say, the African-American clubs on campus required leaders to be African-American, as opposed to anyone committed to advancing the work they do. There’s no reason a non-Black person couldn’t be a leader of such a group, if they were committed to the cause, though whether anyone would vote for them is a different question.
“Wayne State University values student groups as an integral part of campus life and co-curricular learning. We strive to foster student groups that are inclusive, diverse, and expand student experiences. After a review of the situation and communicating with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organization, Wayne State has decided to recertify the group as an official student organization.
“The InterVarsity student group is committed to welcoming and including all students, and the university will not intervene in the group’s leadership selection.”
That’s fine… but now I have no idea what the controversy was about. Are the Christian groups allowed to play by different rules, or is Wayne State admitting that official groups are allowed to set strict restrictions on who can run them? Will the school reimburse the costs of room rentals and more that IVCF paid during its exile? No one’s admitting any wrongdoing, but someone’s gotta be wrong.
I would assume that the lawsuit is now moot. However, the school really needs to figure out what the rules are. No club, Christian or otherwise, should be able to get an exception.
(Image via Shutterstock)