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Must Religious Organizations Be Required To Admit Non-Adherents as Members?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

About five years ago, I had the privilege of making a presentation before the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a European intergovernmental organization established to protect, among other things, international “human rights.” While there, a prominent European atheist group also did a presentation claiming that churches across the world are violating the rights of atheists by excluding them from church membership.


Of course, this was news to me. So I listened.

Their argument went this way: governments subsidize churches directly through tax support, such as in Europe, or indirectly through tax exemptions, such as in the United States (which is false, of course). Since atheists pay taxes, they argued, they can’t be excluded from full church membership and participation, at least not on the grounds that they don’t believe in God. To do so constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of religion and a violation of their human rights—again, at least according to them.

Now, at the time, I frankly thought this argument laughable. However, with the passage of just a few short years, what seemed absurd then is gradually becoming reality through the use of so-called “anti-discrimination” regulations targeting Christian ministries. Assuming there are indeed bona fide societal justifications for “nondiscrimination” regulations, their application to churches or Christian ministries turns the essential nature of “Church” on its head. And since we know that ideas expand to the limits of their own logic, any acquiescence to the notion that a body of religious adherents cannot remove non-believers from their membership poses an existential threat to that religious body.

A few actual examples make my point. In the UK, the University of Exeter has sought—unsuccessfully for now—to ban the Christian Student Union from campus on the grounds that it requires members with voting rights and leadership positions to be—drum-roll please—professing Christians. This is a Christian student group founded over 50 years ago for prayer, discipleship, and ministry.


In the U.S., in the state of Washington, I represented a Christian student club named the Truth Club, which was established to promote Christian virtues and moral behavior. Incredibly, a public school banned the club from campus because the club required that its officers and voting members be professing Christians.

More recently, Vanderbilt University has interpreted its own “anti-discrimination” rules as requiring Christian student groups to open their membership and leadership positions to non-Christians. As a result, more than a dozen Christian groups have been denied “on-campus” recognition.

So what’s wrong with this? At a minimum, most Christian religious ministries exist for the purpose worship, devotion, and promoting their religious views. The government’s efforts to coerce such Christian groups to admit to membership individuals whose motives and goals are antithetical to the very religion for which the group was formed will guarantee, over time, the destruction of the religious group.

And what possible governmental interest could be served by requiring Orthodox Jews, for example, to admit non-Jews to their leadership, unless the goal is destruction of the religious group? Could the government require Islamic societies to admit non-Muslims, such as Christians or Jews, to their membership?

Wouldn’t that be an interesting lawsuit?


Yet this is precisely what government “anti-discrimination” requirements are imposing on Christian ministries, particularly at our universities. At bottom, requiring that non-adherents be permitted to lead or vote for leadership sets the stage for their complete loss of identity and utter destruction.

Atheists of whatever stripe certainly have a right to be treated fairly under the law, but they don’t have a special right to invade and destroy religious organizations with which they disagree.

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