The State of Religious Liberty at America's Colleges and Universities
June 20, 2006
Religious liberty is the first freedom guaranteed to Americans by the Bill of Rights. Yet on many college campuses, the right to associate on the basis of religious belief—and even the right to express those beliefs—is under attack.
- The University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire banned all voluntary studies of the Bible, Koran, and Torah led by resident assistants (RAs) in their own dormitories in July 2005, claiming that those RAs might not seem “approachable” to other students. After months of public pressure from FIRE, the UW System’s Board of Regents approved a policy granting RAs the right to participate in or lead religious activities “to the same extent as other students.”
- At William Paterson University in New Jersey, 63-year-old Muslim student Jihad Daniel was accused of harassment in June 2005, when he replied to a professor’s e-mail advertisement of film about lesbians by stating his belief that homosexuality was a “perversion.” By December 2005, FIRE successfully convinced WPU to drop the charges against Daniel and to remove a letter of reprimand from his file.
- At Lakeland Community College in Ohio, Professor James Tuttle was stripped of his classes in 2003 for making statements on his syllabi and in class lectures that referenced his Catholic faith and how it shaped his personal philosophy.
- The Ohio State University investigated librarian Scott Savage for “sexual harassment” when he recommended four conservative books that accorded with his Christian faith for use in a first-year reading program. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) came to Savage’s aid, and he was cleared of all charges.
- In November 2004, Louisiana State University’s Muslim Student Association, which had been on campus for 30 years, was denied recognition after refusing to comply with a new policy that forced the group to revise its constitution to explicitly state that it would not deny membership on the basis of “religion” or “sexual orientation.” FIRE’s involvement restored the group to its rights by March 2005.
- In 2000, Pennsylvania State University said that the Young Americans for Freedom student group’s constitution and mission statement, which identified rights as “God-given,” constituted religious “discrimination” because the words reflected a “devotion to God.” FIRE’s intervention resulted in a resounding victory for the group.
- At Harvard University, the Harvard-Radcliffe Christian Fellowship was denied funding in 2002 because its constitution required members to “subscribe without reserve” to the articles of the Christian faith. Harvard’s Undergraduate Council decided that this requirement constituted “discriminatory activity.” The Undergraduate Council voted to deny funding to the HRCF again in May 2006. The group remains unfunded today.
- Religious student groups whose constitutions restrict membership and leadership to students who subscribe to the tenets of the group’s stated faith are often denied funding for not subscribing to the university’s “nondiscrimination” policies. Such cases have arisen at: