Campus Free Speech

Universities Void Freedom of Religious Association in the Name of Tolerance

Could the Squirrel Lover's Club be forced to recognize a club president who hates squirrels?


California State University

Campuses want to foster tolerant and inclusive environments, which is why many public universities have decided to restrict the rights of religious students to form their own groups. If that makes no sense to you, keep in mind that college administrators have very curious ideas about what tolerance requires.

At California State University, for instance, students will no longer be able to form groups where membership or leadership is predicated on support for the group's mission. From The New York Times:

At Cal State, the nation's largest university system with nearly 450,000 students on 23 campuses, the chancellor is preparing this summer to withdraw official recognition from evangelical groups that are refusing to pledge not to discriminate on the basis of religion in the selection of their leaders. And at Vanderbilt, more than a dozen groups, most of them evangelical but one of them Catholic, have already lost their official standing over the same issue; one Christian group balked after a university official asked the students to cut the words "personal commitment to Jesus Christ" from their list of qualifications for leadership.

At most universities that have begun requiring religious groups to sign nondiscrimination policies, Jewish, Muslim, Catholic and mainline Protestant groups have agreed, saying they do not discriminate and do not anticipate that the new policies will cause problems. Hillel, the largest Jewish student organization, says some chapters have even elected non-Jews to student boards.

The evangelical groups say they, too, welcome anyone to participate in their activities, including gay men and lesbians, as well as nonbelievers, seekers and adherents of other faiths. But they insist that, in choosing leaders, who often oversee Bible study and prayer services, it is only reasonable that they be allowed to require some basic Christian faith—in most cases, an explicit agreement that Jesus was divine and rose from the dead, and often an implicit expectation that unmarried student leaders, gay or straight, will abstain from sex.

In theory, this could get rather ridiculous. What's to stop a conservative student activist from joining the College Democrats with the explicit goal of tanking the organization? Could the Squirrel Lover's Club be forced to recognize a club president who hates squirrels?

In practice, religious student organizations are the ones hampered by such a policy. As Kevin Drum of Mother Jones put it:

Apparently this was sparked by a court decision that ruled it was OK for public universities to deny recognition to student groups that exclude gays—including Christian groups. I'm fine with that. But requiring Christian groups to allow non-believers to lead Bible studies and prayer services and so forth? That seems pretty extreme. I have to admit that if I were a member of a campus Christian group, I'd have a hard time believing there were no ulterior motives at work here….

I can easily imagine a bunch of campus halfwits who think it would be the funniest joke in the world to join a religious group en masse and then elect an atheist president. These are 19-year-olds we're dealing with, after all.

Defenders of forced inclusion say that the university can't provide official recognition—and the perks that come with it—to any group that practices any form of discrimination, even practical discrimination against members who don't share the group's interests or beliefs.

While students can still form unofficial groups, doing so cuts them off from facilities, funding (most universities require students to pay activities fees and then distribute the money among official groups), table space at recruitment events, and the right to use the university's name in promotional materials.

The policy might seem like a violation of at least the spirit of the U.S. Bill of Rights, which guarantees freedom of assembly, though a sharply divided Supreme Court has held that universities may impose such requirements on officially recognized groups. 

Unfortunately, tolerance at the modern American university is not about allowing people to disagree: It is about prohibiting them from doing anything deemed uncivil by the ones in charge.

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  1. Tolerance means not tolerating intolerance.

    Christians are intolerant.

    Therefore tolerant people should not tolerate Christians.


    1. Run for President of the Squirrel Lover’s Club!

      1. You don’t even have to love squirrels.

  3. Defenders of forced inclusion say that the university can’t provide official recognition?and the perks that come with it?to any group that practices any form of discrimination

    So will a university educate, feed, and house me for free, or would they discriminate against me for being poor?

  4. This doesn’t strike me as a violation of the First Amendment, but it’s still a ridiculous dick move on the part of universities. Why does everything that happens at a college have to be a priori inclusive? Is it so terrible to allow the Black Student Union to exclude whites? Or the Allied Atheist Allegiance to exclude Christians? Or the Common Decency and Self-Respect League to exclude Episiarch?

    1. I would never belong to any decency and self-respect club that would have me as a member, Hugh.

      1. Not even one that was forced to have you as a member against their will?

    2. Because it is a state run college. The state cannot discriminate based on viewpoint and religion. This is totally about the 1st Amendment.

      1. Well they aren’t, they are just saying anybody who wants government funds/privileges has to be completely non-discriminating. That’s not viewpoint discrimination even if it’s retarded.

        1. And in doing that they are making it impossible for religious organizations to function. They are basically saying “you can have any organization you want, but it can’t actually act on its principles”.

          This is Orwellian totalitarian bullshit and shame on anyone who defends it.

    3. I tried to join the Society of Women Engineers because there was no alternative for my gender. Apparently, white or male, we just “naturally network”.

      1. I went to a couple SWE meetings. I felt like an injured gazelle in front of a pride of starving lions! There’s nothing quite like when a strapping college lad walks into an auditorium filled with 100 horny nerd girls.

          1. I didn’t have 100 sexual consent forms as mandated by the state of California, therefore nothing happened. The End. #NotAllMen

      2. I joined SWE just to pad my resume. Went to one meeting and was bored as fuck. I was also the only dude there. Never went back, but still put it on my resume.

    4. It might be a violation if the only groups they are using this “inclusive” standard against are religious in nature. (I don’t know if that’s the case; the article seems to imply it.)

    5. At least at my university (based on the experience with the people I’ve met in these groups, which is a good number) the Black and Latino Student Unions wouldn’t have a problem, and would probably actually be pretty happy if a white person wanted to join. Don’t know if that’s the case everywhere though.

  5. Freedom of association? What the hell is that?

    1. It’s the freedom to force people to associate with you, whether they like it or not. Duh.

    2. Freedom of association? What the hell is that?

      It’s the right to discriminate against the first word that pops into your head.

  6. Okay, I guess I better start greasing some palms so I can become president of Black Student Union.

    Need a good slogan, though.

    1. “I’m proud of my African ancestors!”

      1. “My great-great-great-great grandpappy put great value on black people!”

    2. Need a good slogan, though

      I’m drawing a blank, but Sen. Warren’s office might be able to provide you with some pointers.

    3. Need a good slogan, though.

      “I was born a poor, black child.”

      1. “The new phonebook’s here! The new phonebook’s here!”

    4. “Honk for the Honky!”

    5. “One of my best friends is Black.”

  7. I’m fine with that

    Well, thank Zod Mother Jones is a-OK with a little bit of freedom of association being infringed!

  8. I truly have no objection to FYTW in this context…

    “I’d like to be a member of your club.”

    “Sorry. You can’t. Go away.”

    “Why not?”

    “Fuck you, that’s why.”

    1. Yeah, that’s half the fun of a club.

    2. Yeah, that’s half the fun of a club.

  9. If Christians want to have their own university-funded social groups, then they just need to start their own universities.

    1. Yeah, they…wait…

  10. OMG I so want to see a member of a Mens Rights group run for a leadership position in a college feminist group on one of these colleges.

    1. Or even better a fundie who preaches Praying the gay away to run for president of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance

    2. “OK, you dames, I’m running for President of your little feminist club. I won’t speak for very long, because I don’t spend all my time talking like some genders I could mention. But if you vote for me, I will make it my priority to break down all the remaining sexist barriers on campus and press for major reforms. I’m talking coed dorms, coed bathrooms, coed showers, coeds coeds coeds. To sum up, you all have great legs, you just gotta keep ’em shaved.”

  11. “Good evening, I’m Trevor Hornblower III, and I would like to be the President of your Jewish Student Union. I think it would be a smashing opportunity to mingle with my Hebrew fellow-students, and maybe get some pointers on my math homework. Ha ha, that was simply a jest, fellows. Seriously, though, I intend, if elected, to put my full energies into this year’s fundraising dinner – we can really put the ‘cash’ in ‘Kashrut.’ So, in short, my circumcised brethren, vote for me and we will all have a swell time.”

  12. +1 Alt Text, and Congrats on figuring it out.

  13. And yet, these same universities have the gall to exclude anyone whose tuition is not paid.

  14. And at Vanderbilt, more than a dozen groups, most of them evangelical but one of them Catholic, have already lost their official standing over the same issue; one Christian group balked after a university official asked the students to cut the words “personal commitment to Jesus Christ” from their list of qualifications for leadership.

    I for one, can’t wait to run for President of the campus Feminists on a platform of putting women in burqas and requiring that no female student attend classes without a male relative accompanying them.

    Respect my ancient and noble culture, bitches!

    1. I attended Vanderbilt. The school’s religious societies/groups were very prominent when i was there (mid 1990s); the main reason is that 50% or more of the students came from southern regions that are/were very much the strongest links in the Bible Belt, and they came to vanderbilt partly *because* it was very much considered ‘jesus friendly’

      (note: the 2 largest industries in Nashville are neither ‘music’ = its Healthcare, and Christian Publishing; one of the largest building in Nashville when i was there had a gigantic cross overlooking the city)

      Most kids were variations of baptist, or flavors of protestant I was generally unfamiliar with. Being a catholic yankee made me very much an oddball. A large number of people didn’t even think ‘Catholic’ qualified as ‘christian’.

      That said, for the students who weren’t involved at all, it was more or less as if it the religious things didn’t exist. It was never an impediment to normal school life, or a cause of any sectarian strife.

      I have always been a strong supporter of religious freedom, and i find the idea of Vanderbilt telling these groups they have to disband… shocking, frankly. While nothing stops them from continuing without the University imprimatur, it is still disturbing.

  15. I tried to think of the most outrageous Org/Religion/University.
    Best I could come up with is BYU’s Muslim Student Association.…..==/profile
    Allah Akbar!

  16. …students will no longer be able to form groups where membership or leadership is predicated on support for the group’s mission.

    Sounds like every club, team, committee and task force I’ve ever been on….

  17. Does this mean women can force their way into fraternity initiations?

  18. So can a Klansman join a black student group or a Neo-Nazi a Jewish student group? The right to associate also means the right to discriminate. The State should have nothing to say about who the individual discriminates against or whom they associate with. It is the social norms and mores that brand those that discriminate for incomprehensible reasons as outcasts and those individuals must suffer and live with the consequences of their choices. If a hotel owner refuses to rent a room to an individual that they deem unworthy, then he as the property owner has that right, but they can also suffer the besmirchment of their name and professional reputation, and suffer lost revenue and possible business failure due to the power of boycott. As for me personally. Well, I belong to the largest minority in the World. I am an individual and have no need to belong to an organized group based on a perceived identity!

    Your slings and arrows here if you must!

  19. If I were advising any religious group legally in this matter I would tell them to drop ALL requirements for anything for leaders except honorable time in the group and being voted into the position.

    If a mass of atheist join and continue to participate honorably in the religious group it will be impossible to tell these evangelical atheist from the mass of Christian atheist in these already who fraudulently profess to follow Jesus Christ and yet do not love sinners like Christ loves EVEN today if they are lesbians or other type sinner.

    To say you are committed to following Christ and despise homosexuals and not just the sinful homosexual sex act makes you a follower of Lucifer and NOT Jesus. At least most atheists do not work so hard to harm Christ disguised as Christians.

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