Faced with an insurmountable obstruction to their re-registration as a student organization due to the administration’s refusal to apply the appropriate requirements to the fraternity, there was little avenue left to them but to file suit against the University, and to seek a legal solution to their battle for equal rights on campus vis-à-vis student group association and exclusivity.
On Tuesday, December 5, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of both the UGA chapter and the national organization of BYX by the Alliance Defense Fund and the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, seeking an injunction against the University to allow the fraternity to re-register as an organization with its association requirements intact, and to be afforded the same rights and privileges as any other student group on campus.
Besides the tax and educational code exemptions which applied to the Christian fraternity, a main point in the case was that the University’s nondiscrimination policy was inconsistently enforced, as evidenced by the cited example of UGA’s Baha'i Student Association, which requires that a person be of the Baha'i faith to be an officer.
Within two days of the suit being filed, the University acquiesced to the students’ demands, in part blaming the ordeal on a misunderstanding by an employee, but also acknowledging that organizations like BYX can exist as chartered, and without the forced inclusion of a “nondiscrimination” policy which mandates the acceptance of people who stand in opposition to the purpose of the organization itself.
As the BYX statement of purpose is “To establish brotherhood and unity among college men based on the common bond of Jesus Christ,” it only makes sense that there would be a requirement that all of its members be Christian.
The success achieved here goes beyond the granting of permission to BYX to immediately reform and begin once again to receive the benefits afforded to all official student organizations. The larger victory comes from the fact that the University has now agreed to reevaluate, and to revise, its nondiscrimination policy.
The University of Georgia’s Department of Legal Affairs sent a letter the Center for Law and Religious Freedom on Thursday the 8th, informing them that BYX:
…will have all the rights and responsibilities of a registered student organization except that they will be exempt from the provisions of the University's Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy relating to membership in the organization based upon religion.
The letter also acknowledged that the University would soon begin “reviewing its student organization policies,” and advised that the concerns raised in this case would “be thoroughly considered.”
Unfortunately, though he agreed to the terms of the suit, University of Georgia President Michael Adams couldn’t keep himself from lashing out at the fly-in-the-PC-ointment Christian fraternity. At a news conference Thursday morning, he said:
I'm going to put my Christian hat on for a moment — I think there are ways that Christian people are supposed to be able to solve problems without litigation…Let's see if we can find enough common ground to both ensure no one's religious rights are abridged and secondly that the university ensures that people are not being discriminated against.
Adams’s statement was, of course, a completely unnecessary slap in the face of a group of students who wanted nothing more than to continue with their activities – all of which fell squarely within the bounds of University policy and federal law – in the same way that they had since their chapter’s inception nearly two years ago, and who, when faced with obstacle after insurmountable obstacle to their legally doing so, took the only recourse left to them.
As David French, Director of the ADF’s Center for Academic Freedom, observed:
While this all sounds so reasonable, it plays into a common guilt trip repeatedly inflicted on religious students. Aren’t religious students supposed to be nice? Aren’t they supposed to get along with everyone? How does litigation advance the Christian witness? By asking questions like this, universities deflect attention from their own failings and ignore the bureaucratic black hole that sucks in the vast majority of all student complaints.
The fact that students appeal to the courts — as is their right and as the Apostle Paul did when faced with illegal persecution — is evidence of their courage and conviction, not of any spiritual or moral defect.
Having a nondiscrimination policy makes sense in some cases, but in the instance of an organization based around some ideal, ideology, or religion – such as a Christian group, an all-male fraternity, an all-female sorority, or a conservative or liberal organization, for example – it is completely illogical to forbid that adherence to the ideal, ideology, or religion around which that group is based be required for membership or officership.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution either managed to miss, or attempted to obfuscate, the entire point of this case with its Friday article on the suit’s outcome. Said the paper:
UGA officials said they have not finalized plans for a policy change. At the heart, a main issue is how to amend the policy without opening it too far. The chess club, or a social fraternity for example, would not be allowed to exclude Muslim students or Christians based on their faith.
The issue at hand has never been whether religious, racial, or even sexual discrimination was a factor in the ability of students to associate, or to take part in activities. Whether a person is Christian or Muslim, black or white, male or female has nothing to do with his or her interest in many activities or organizations. However, when a group is organized around a common interest or trait – such as a religious organization, or a fraternity or sorority – then discrimination based on that interest or trait is – and must be – permitted, for, if it is not, then common interest groups cannot exist.
Though it took legal coercing, in this the University of Georgia corrected a wrong and made the right decision. Next, though, the school must follow through on its promise to “review and change” its nondiscrimination policy. As Timothy Tracey of the Christian Legal Society said Thursday, “We need a long-term solution and just saying, 'You, Beta Upsilon Chi, will be recognized,' isn't good enough. We need a policy change.”
A policy change is indeed necessary. A blanket, one-size-fits-all program to provide a politically correct end to all discrimination cannot be enacted without inadvertently discriminating against some of those whom it was designed to protect. Enacting a policy which forbids an organization based around a common defining characteristic to acknowledge that characteristic when determining its membership is a proposition which is as foolhardy as it is unworkable.
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