UNC-Chapel Hill Tries to Spin Away a Major Defeat
May 25, 2006
Shortly after the injunction was issued, UNC-Chapel Hill changed its nondiscrimination policy to include the following language: "Student organizations that select their members on the basis of commitment to a set of beliefs (e.g., religious or political beliefs) may limit membership and participation in the organization to students who, upon individual inquiry, affirm that they support the organization's goals and agree with its beliefs." In other words, AIO could now do what it had sued for the right to do. In September 2005, AIO applied for, and was granted, full recognition as a student organization. Not surprisingly, the court subsequently dismissed the case as moot in light of the fact that the university had issued a new policy and recognized AIO.
All too predictably, the public-relations machine at the university has tried to spin the court's decision to moot the case as a victory for the university. To fully grasp the silliness of this position, let's take a look at how events unfolded for the university: (1) the university refused to recognize a student group because the group wanted to exclude people who do not share the group's beliefs; (2) the university was slammed in the press and by national advocacy organizations for not understanding that the constitutionally protected freedom of association means nothing if you cannot exclude people who do not share your beliefs; (3) the university took inadequate steps to reform its policy and was then sued; (4) a federal court enjoined the university from enforcing the policy because it was likely unconstitutional; (5) the university changed the policy and recognized the student group; (6) the court dismissed the case because, under the changed policy, the student group now! may exclude people who do not share the group's beliefs. Would you call this a victory? Maybe if you were nuts or a little dim - or maybe if you were University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
The university can spin this case however it wants, but the facts are not on its side. The university wasted countless hours and taxpayer dollars in a failed attempt to exclude a Christian group that only wanted to maintain its Christian identity, and then had to change its policies and recognize the group. It lost in its attempt to tell the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship it could not limit its leadership to Christians back in 2002 (an effort also apparently spearheaded by university administrator Jonathan Curtis), and it lost in its attempt to tell AIO it had to admit non-Christians this time around. No matter how it spins, the score is freedom of association at University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 2, administrators, 0.