On Monday, a federal judge sided with a decades-old campus Christian organization that was de-registered by a Michigan university for requiring that its leaders agree to a statement of faith.
Officials at Wayne State University in Detroit will be held responsible for the nominal damages of $1 and are enjoined from revoking the registered status as a university group again based on “religious criteria for student leadership selection,” the ruling read.
The Christian Post reports that the university determined InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, which has provided ministry to students on campus for over 75 years, employed “discriminatory” policy by requiring group leaders to agree with a statement of faith.
“WSU de-registered the club during a routine club membership reapplication process in October 2017 due to the club’s supposed discrimination against non-Christians. But, the university eventually recalled its decision after InterVarsity filed a lawsuit,” CP explains.
Being demoted from officially recognized student club status meant that InterVarsity no longer qualified for certain benefits on campus previously awarded them, such as applying for funding or reserving meeting rooms and booths at events for free.
Judge Robert H. Cleland of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan deemed the university’s actions towards Christian group “strike at the heart” of the First Amendment as well as “obviously odious to the Constitution.”
“The uncontested facts demonstrate that Defendants violated Plaintiffs’ rights to internal management, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, and free exercise as a matter of law,” Judge Cleland, a President George H. W. Bush appointee, ruled. “Defendants also violated the Establishment Clause as a matter of law.”
The ruling also noted that other groups on campus made choices for leadership on the basis of sex, gender, or like-minded ideology, yet the “small group of Christians … were denied [student organization] benefits because they require their Christian leaders to be … Christian.”
The lawsuit had pointed to the discriminatory practices of other well-established campus organizations that were not subject to the same treatment.
“Wayne State rightly allows fraternities to have only male leaders, female athletic clubs to have only female leaders, and African-American clubs to have only African-American leaders,” the lawsuit, which was filed by religious freedom legal group Becket Fund on behalf of InterVarsity, read. “But Wayne State cannot then say it is wrong for a Christian club to have only Christian leaders.”
The judge determined that Christian organizations must be protected in their right to choose leaders that align with the mission of their organization.
“No religious group can constitutionally be made an outsider, excluded from equal access to public or university life, simply because it insists on religious leaders who believe in its cause,” the ruling stated.
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