Carolina?s Underground Religious War

Posted: Jun 12, 2004 12:00 AM

In my career as a professor, I have noticed that college administrators often try to do things in private that they could never defend in public. That is why publicity is usually the best remedy when college administrators abuse their authority.  Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis probably put it best when he said that ?Sunlight is the best disinfectant.?

But Louis Brandeis never met the current administration at UNC Chapel Hill. After being sued and embarrassed in the court of public opinion in 2003, there is now credible information indicating that the administration at UNC is waging a new underground war on religious organizations, all in the name of diversity and tolerance. The behavior of the administration now indicates that they know they are violating the law and that they are trying to conceal that fact from the public. Of course, it is the public that is unwittingly funding the administration?s illegal assault on religious liberty.

For those who do not recall, efforts to sue UNC began in early 2003, shortly after the university threatened to freeze the funds of numerous religious organizations (mostly Christian) unless they allowed any student to join as a voting member of their organization. That rule applied even if the student was of a different religion or if the student happened to be an atheist.

At least one organization was told in 2003 that they must allow students opposed to their orthodox religious beliefs to hold elective office. Another group was told that their constitution could not say that the group subscribes to a ?belief in God.?

After threats of litigation by more than one organization and media exposure in numerous columns and books, it appeared that the university had decided to respect the constitutional rights of students in campus religious organizations. Indeed, it appeared that the university finally understood that the First Amendment rights of freedom of association and freedom of religion trumped the diversity clauses in the student handbook.

Unfortunately, such optimism now appears to be misplaced.

Recently, I received information that the president of a Christian organization at UNC met with Jonathan Curtis, the administrator in charge of the recognition of student groups, in September of 2003. The meeting was convened to discuss the group?s concerns about the application for recognition.

The president of that group claims that he offered to submit the application with an addendum objecting to the provision in the application that prohibits discrimination based on religious affiliation. In other words, he wanted to form a Christian group that was actually comprised of Christians.

The president alleges that Jonathan Curtis told the group that if they turned in an application by which they did not intend to abide, he would take them to Honor Court for lying to a university official. This threat was issued just three months after the UNC administration was exposed for lying about the scope of their harassment of student religious organizations. One of those lies included a denial that they had been threatened with a lawsuit by a Christian organization after the original controversy broke out in January. That initial controversy was between the university and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.

After Curtis threatened the group with Honor Court hearings, the president claims that he asked for an explanation in writing. He reports that Curtis said that he needed to check with the legal department first and then he would email the group. They report that no email was ever sent to them.

Then, just before Christmas, the group noticed that their web access was gone.
When the president met with Curtis again in February of 2004, he was told that the group was no longer recognized. In other words, de-recognition of the Christian group was accomplished without leaving a paper trail.

In March, the president went to the Student Activities Funds Office (SAFO) to conduct a transaction.  According to him, Curtis was there and instructed the SAFO director to cancel the group?s account due to their recognition status.

Freezing the funds of student groups and banning them from meeting on campus is a serious matter. It is something that UNC once did in a manner that was illegal but, fortunately, was fully documented by their internal records. Now it is something that the university does illegally and without any documentation.

In other words, UNC once trashed religious liberty in the name of diversity. Now the university trashes both religious liberty and due process in the name of diversity.

This new information reminds me of another UNC controversy that took place in 2002. In that controversy, the administration rightly fought efforts to stop them from using a controversial book called Approaching the Koran in their summer reading program.

After the controversy was resolved, Chancellor James Moeser stood in front of the National Press Club in Washington, DC, reading emails from people he said were threatening academic freedom at UNC.  One email said, ?You are doing the work of Satan, and you will surely perish in the lake of fire.? After Moeser read that email he declared, ?All of this because we asked our students to read a book.?

But now the public knows the rest of the story. Back then, UNC administrators were simply posing as defenders of the Constitution against a wave of religious zealotry. In reality, they have long been violating the Constitution in name of religious zealotry. That is, if you consider diversity to be a form of religion. I certainly do.

I guess this whole episode is a testament to the power of free speech after all. Sometimes a little sunlight shows that a ?rebel with a cause? is really a bigot with an agenda.

Mike Adams ( is the author of ?Welcome to the Ivory Tower of Babel.? Signed copies are available at Trover Shop on Capitol Hill, The Salt Shaker and Barnes and Noble in Wilmington, and on