Jeff Emanuel

Political correctness has long been running amok on the campuses of America's institutes of higher education. From the severe limiting of free speech to mandatory “nondiscrimination” policies which greatly limit freedom of association, basic rights and privileges have been increasingly denied to some students as a direct result of their (legal) refusal to compromise their principles and to embrace the multiculturalism and political correctness being forced down their throats.

A specific example of this – and of its fortunate conclusion, due to the decision of the students in question to take stand up for themselves, even though it meant legal action – recently took place at the University of Georgia.

This November, a Christian fraternity at the University of Georgia, Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX, which stands for “Brothers Under Christ”), was prevented from completing its required annual re-registration for student organization status – a necessary action to remain officially associated with UGA, and thus to remain eligible to use University facilities, to apply for funds, and to receive other such privileges – and was summarily removed from the roster of official student groups, as a result of its requirement that members and officers “affirm [their] personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

The reason for this action was that their requirement of Christian faith violated a new nondiscrimination policy enacted by the Board of Regents statewide, and by the University locally, which requires that student organizations include in their constitution, and adhere to, the statement that “Membership shall not be denied to any person because of age, race, sex, religion, handicap, sexual orientation, or national origin.”

The fraternity’s president attempted to correct this situation by explaining to Georgia’s Assistant Director of Student Activities that, as a registered 501(c)(7) organization, BYX was exempt from the requirement not to discriminate on the basis of religion and gender.

When the University employee responded that the nondiscrimination policy requirement was still valid because student organizations fell under the jurisdiction of the educational code, rather than the tax code. However, in reality – as the BYX president attempted to point out – under the applicable portions of both the education and tax codes, the fraternity’s requirements are not “invidious discrimination,” but rather “federally recognized associational classifications.”

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.


Jeff Emanuel

Jeff Emanuel, a Special Operations military veteran, is a Leadership fellow with the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia, where he also studies Classics. In addition, he is a contributing editor for conservative web log RedState.com, and is a columnist for the Athens, GA Banner-Herald newspaper.

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