University of Georgia Refuses Recognition of Christian Fraternity

As an evangelical Christian in America, I am generally loathe to make the claim that Christians are persecuted in America. I know enough about the real persecution and threats to lives of Christians in places like China or the Middle East to know that we do a great disservice to those brave souls when we claim persecution here in America.

That being said, there are occasionally real threats to religious liberty in America and they should concern everyone, not just Christians. Agnostics/atheists should very much be concerned about religious liberty at it effects their freedom FROM religion.

This week a Christian fraternity at the University of Georgia has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against UGA and the Board of Regents. It seems that the University of Georgia has decided to no longer recognize Beta Upsilon Chi because of a fraternity requirement that all members and officers be Christians. The university seems to believe that this requirement is in violation of its non-discrimination policies.

I am quite familiar with situations like this as I was involved in a similar case in high school. My brother, our own commenter Scott McD, and myself were all involved in a group in high school called Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Henderson High in Atlanta, GA. Unlike other extracurricular groups including non-academic ones, we were not allowed to use school property for our meetings. In fact, we were all disciplined for simply passing notes in the hall about off-campus meetings.

Our case eventually garnered the interest of Christian uber-attorney Jay Sekulow. Jay helped us tremendously and gave us a ton of media exposure. At the same time, Jay was working on a case that ended up at the Supreme Court called Westside Community Board of Education v. Mergens. The facts of the case were as follows (from Oyez: U.S. Supreme Court Media):

The school administration at Westside High School denied permission to a group of students to form a Christian club with the same privileges and meeting terms as other Westside after-school student clubs. In addition to citing the Establishment Clause, Westside refused the club’s formation because it lacked a faculty sponsor. When the school board upheld the administration’s denial, Mergens and several other students sued. The students alleged that Westside’s refusal violated the Equal Access Act, which requiremes that schools in receipt of federal funds provide “equal access” to student groups seeking to express “religious, political, philosophical, or other content” messages. On appeal from an adverse District Court ruling, the Court of Appeals found in favor of the students. The Supreme Court granted Westside certiorari.

The Supreme Court eventually found in favor of the students as follows:

In distinguishing between “curriculum” and “noncurriculum student groups,” the Court held that since Westside permitted other noncurricular clubs, it was prohibited under the Equal Access Act from denying equal access to any after-school club based on the content of its speech. The proposed Christian club would be a noncurriculum group since no other course required students to become its members, its subject matter would not actually be taught in classes, it did not concern the school’s cumulative body of courses, and its members would not receive academic credit for their participation. The Court added that the Equal Access Act was constitutional because it served an overriding secular purpose by prohibiting discrimination on the basis of philosophical, political, or other types of speech. As such, the Act protected the Christian club’s formation even if its members engaged in religious discussions.

I believe that the principles in this case apply as well to the Christian fraternity at UGA, especially considering that UGA is a public university. And I would also ask the question: who is being discriminated against by there being a Christian fraternity that requires its members to be Christians?

15 comments

  1. DougieFresh says:

    So does this mean that the University is making a distinction between sexual and religious discrimination?

    If you cannot force all your members to be Christians, why is it okay for a fraternity to force all of its members to be male, or a sorority female?

  2. ColinATL says:

    Personally, I think it’s ridiculous that the University didn’t recognize the group.

    But at the same time, I have to ask the fraternity why have the requirement at all? Why would a Muslim, a Jew, or an atheist ever want to be an officer in a Christian fraternity?

    Ultimately, the University should recognize the group, but I still want the group to defend the policy.

  3. DougieFresh says:

    Colin,

    Sorry for the aside, but you said that you went to Ga Tech in a previous topic, did you happen to be there during the early 90’s. You remind me of someone I once knew.

  4. Rick Day says:

    does anyone else fail to see the logic in a discriminating entity (The Christian fraternity) complaining about being discriminated against?

    Christians have enough privilege; in fact they have TOO MUCH privilege. They control a large percentage of government policy, possess more tax free property than any other group outside State or Federal entities… Hell, they even dominate the space in the AJC “Religon and Values” section!

    Discriminate all you want….at church. But my taxpayer funds support the university and I’ll be damned if my money goes to support any MORE whiney ‘oh woe is us tales of faux persecution’ Christ Cult student groups.

    If BUC wants to discriminate, then do it at one of the DISCRIMINATING CHRISTIAN COLLEGES THAT INFECT the damn state! Sheesh!

  5. buzzbrockway says:

    This group is asking for official recognition by UGA and according to the article the paperwork the group signed said they would comply with UGA’s policies. If they signed paperwork they should abide by what they signed.

    If UGA is not consistent in the application of their rules then that’s a problem for UGA.

    If I were them, which I’m not, I’d tell UGA we’re not going to abide by your rules and organize privately. They should be allowed to meet somewhere on campus, there’s no law against that.

    Does anyone know if this group received any money from UGA such as student activity fees? Perhaps that’s the root of the issue here.

  6. memberg says:

    The frat’s complaint is a pile of dog squeeze, as Neal Boortz would put it. (I got a copy of it, lovingly hosted by chrisishardcore: http://chrisishardcore.com/download/complaint.pdf )

    It’s got the same old yadda yadda about free expression, free speech, free association, free exercise, equal protection under the 4th and 14th, etc.

    But the truly novel theory it puts forth is that the frat, a 501(c)(7) (or (3), it uses both), gets its right to discriminate by religion straight from the U.S. tax code, education law/Title IX be damned.

    Isn’t pride one of them deadly sins? Practically speaking, all the frat has to do is put the non-discrimination clause in their constitution and return to business as usual. No one really cares what student groups do amongst themselves.

    I suppose the best solution would be to let them join IFC. Then, they could just adopt a practice of unspoken discrimination like every other frat.

  7. Buzz,

    I am almost 100% positive this group did not receive any funding from student activity fees. There are two ways to get those dollars:
    1) Already receive them (these guys don’t)
    2) Petition the SGA for funds (these guys didn’t)

  8. After reviewing activity allocations…these guys did not receive direct funding from student activity fees.

    However, Buzz you alluded to meeting space on campus; as an organization last year and a few years before, these guys did reserve space on campus that is funded by student activity fees.

    In the 2006-2007 student activity fee request, “Student Clubs and Organizations” (a division of Student Affairs under Campus Life at UGA) requested $9,980 of student activity fees. This is a figure which approximates the amount they’ve been funded since 2004. These funds go toward supporting activity fairs (which as a registered stu. org BYX may participate in) and techinical support for facilities (BYX has acces to as reg. stu. org.) So, in some sense it can be argued they are receiving these funds.

    With that said, it doesn’t matter anyway; its over. Good job BYX!

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