Victory for Religious Liberty at Milwaukee School of Engineering
April 22, 2005
MILWAUKEE, Wis., April 22, 2005—In a victory for religious liberty and freedom of association, the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) has granted full recognition to the ReJOYce in Jesus Campus Fellowship (RJCF) student group. On Monday, April 18, the school’s student government granted full recognition to all student organizations with “temporary status,” which included RJCF. The student government’s decision came after the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) took the case public last week. Prior to FIRE’s intervention, the student government had denied RJCF full recognition because of an article in the group’s bylaws requiring members to live in accordance with the group’s faith.
“Although this victory for religious freedom on campus is welcome news, it is telling that MSOE chose to correct its mistake in such an indirect way,” stated David French, president of FIRE. “While we are pleased that MSOE’s student government has reversed its earlier decision, MSOE administrators need to realize that RJCF should never have faced such a battle in the first place.”
RJCF ran into trouble in Fall 2004 when the group submitted its original constitution and bylaws to apply for re-recognition after a year of inactivity. In January of 2005, MSOE’s Student Government Association (SGA) sent RJCF a letter stating that it would not recognize the group because it believed RJCF’s “Standards of Personal Conduct” discriminated on the basis of “sexual preference.” The SGA justified its decision by stating that to allow such “discrimination” would violate the student government’s duty to uphold state and university policies.
The SGA granted RJCF “temporary status” until March 28 so that RJCF could revise its “Standards of Personal Conduct,” which require that voting members not commit acts “expressly forbidden in Scripture,” including “homosexual behavior” among others, and which cite passages from the Bible that the group believes forbid such acts. Nonvoting members are not required to abide by these standards in order to attend the group’s meetings or activities.
After the SGA’s decision, RJCF contacted FIRE for assistance. FIRE’s March 23 letter to MSOE President Hermann Viets explained that the the SGA’s actions had violated the school’s stated policies supporting religious liberty and freedom of association, and reminded him that no state or federal law prevents religious organizations from governing themselves according to religious principles.
In late March, the SGA extended RJCF’s temporary status until Fall 2005, but the SGA also suggested that RJCF adopt weaker alternative language for its standards of conduct that would allow for differing interpretations of the Bible. In an e-mail to RJCF’s advisor, a student official explained that without such changes, it would be “very difficult” for RJCF to attain full recognition.
When President Viets did not respond to FIRE’s concerns, FIRE took the case public on April 13. Five days later, according to MSOE’s Ingenium newspaper, the SGA voted to grant full recognition to all student organizations that were given “temporary status.” RJCF, along with the Muslim Students Association and the Cigar and Pipe Social Club, became “full-fledged organizations with no funding restrictions or any other probationary restrictions.”
“FIRE hopes that MSOE will take steps to ensure that such infringements on students’ rights never happen again,” added French. “We are committed to fighting on behalf of students at MSOE and across the country when a college or university reneges on its promises of student freedom.”
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at MSOE and on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Hermann Viets, President, Milwaukee School of Engineering: 414-277-7100; firstname.lastname@example.org