(WNS) – A Christian student group at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro will be allowed to limit its membership to those who share its beliefs after the college reversed a previous decision.
In April 2011, the Make Up Your Own Mind club first sought exemption from the school’s nondiscrimination policy under its provisions for religious groups. University officials denied that request, as well as subsequent requests, ruling the club’s requirement that members agree with its statement of beliefs and its mission did not clearly make it a religious group.
The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a lawsuit against the school on behalf of the group on Feb. 29 in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. A settlement was reached, so the ADF filed paperwork Monday to withdraw the suit.
“To their credit, they clarified policy,” said Jeremy Tedesco, legal counsel with ADF. “The policy is now clear — all belief-based clubs are able to select members and leaders based on their beliefs.”
Tedesco said the new policy ensures a marketplace of ideas on campus that extends to the “broadest range of beliefs” from religious to political. He stressed, however, that the public university’s attempt to define “religious” was a significant issue on its own.
“The government here was trying to decide based on (the club’s) organic documents if it was religious,” he said. “The government was being a theological arbitrator, which it cannot do constitutionally. That can no longer happen at UNCG.”
Why UNCG ruled the club wasn’t a religious group wasn’t clear from the responses to the exemption requests, Tedesco said.
A controversy erupted earlier this year when Vanderbilt, a private university in Tennessee, told faith–based groups they could no longer require leaders to share their beliefs. That leaves open the possibility of a club being taken over by students who disagree. The change has led some Christian organizations to move off campus.
Is there a lesson for Vanderbilt from the UNCG settlement?
“What we certainly hope is that Vanderbilt looks at universities like UNCG that did things right,” Tedesco said. “We think Vanderbilt should look at situations like this as a good model. So far they are not willing to do so.”