Victory for Religious Liberty at Wright State University
June 22, 2009
Christian Group Regains Recognition
DAYTON, Ohio, June 22, 2009—After banning a Christian student organization from meeting on campus, Wright State University has reversed course and granted recognition to the Campus Bible Fellowship (CBF) for the 2009–2010 academic year. Despite the group's 30-year history as a registered student organization, Wright State withdrew recognition from the Campus Bible Fellowship in January after the group refused to eliminate faith-based standards for its voting members. Under pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), religious liberty has been restored on Wright State's campus.
"Since its inception ten years ago, FIRE has reminded public universities that the First Amendment protects the right of religious students to form groups based on shared beliefs," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "We are pleased that Wright State has finally recognized its obligation to uphold the fundamental right to freedom of association."
On January 30, 2009, CBF was informed by Wright State's Office of Student Activities that its re-registration was being denied because its constitution did not include university-mandated "nondiscrimination" language. The mandatory terms would have prevented the group from requiring voting members to adhere to religious and behavioral standards, such as requiring that voting members "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior" and subscribe to the group's articles of faith. (Nonvoting members did not have to meet these standards.) After Wright State refused to provide any sort of religious exemption to CBF, the group contacted FIRE for help.
FIRE wrote to Wright State President David R. Hopkins on February 12, reminding him that the Constitution requires that "if Wright State is to allow expressive organizations to exist on its campus at all, it must allow religious organizations to exist, to define their missions, [and] to select their own members." FIRE also pointed to its victories in similar religious liberty cases at Ohio State University and at Tufts University. Wright State General Counsel Gwen Mattison later phoned Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program, to inform him that CBF would be recognized for the remainder of the academic year, but that the group would be required to amend its constitution when applying for re-recognition. Mattison later refused to confirm the details of this conversation.
"Wright State's application of its nondiscrimination requirement actually discriminated against religious student organizations," said Adam Kissel, director of FIRE's Individual Rights Defense Program. "To force a group whose mission is to communicate a particular Christian message to accept voting members or leaders who reject that very message is like requiring the Anti-Defamation League to accept anti-Semites as members or leaders. Thankfully, at public universities like Wright State, the First Amendment prevents such an absurd outcome."
Joining with FIRE, the Alliance Defense Fund also wrote to Wright State Director of Student Activities Rick Danals on behalf of CBF, requesting that the university allow CBF to maintain its belief-based requirements for voting members. On June 12, Danals granted an exemption and signaled that Wright State would not further impede the group's recognition for 2009–2010. Official notification of recognition followed on June 18.
"The Campus Bible Fellowship should be commended for standing up for its constitutional rights," Kissel said. "FIRE will be watching Wright State to ensure that the rights of all expressive organizations, religious and secular alike, are protected on campus."
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process rights, freedom of expression, and rights of conscience on our nation's campuses. FIRE's efforts to preserve liberty at Wright State University and elsewhere can be seen by visiting www.thefire.org.
Adam Kissel, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
David R. Hopkins, President, Wright State University: 937-775-2312; email@example.com
Rick A. Danals, Director of Student Activities, Wright State University: 937-775-5543; firstname.lastname@example.org