The University of Colorado will soon recognize and fund Ratio Christi, a small Christian student group at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. It will also enforce a new policy that respects freedom of association for all, as ensured by the Constitution.
The change results from the settlement of a federal discrimination suit brought by four UCCS students. The agreement includes a new policy that says student groups may restrict leadership positions to individuals who agree with any organization’s fundamental tenets. It allows a group to require leaders to sign a statement guaranteeing they will uphold the organization’s values, goals, beliefs, and more.
Chance Hill, the Fifth Congressional District representative on the Colorado Board of Regents, fought for the settlement and policy change by working with fellow regents, campus chancellors and university counsel. An associate at a prestigious law firm, Hill has experience relevant to the conflict.
“Like any other student group at a public university, religious student organizations should be free to choose their leaders without government meddling,” Hill said in a statement for The Gazette.
“As a result of this policy change, all CU campuses will soon formally recognize and register student groups of all kinds — regardless of whether they require that their group leaders subscribe to the mission of the student group (and so long as other non-discriminatory policies are followed).
“It’s a very important change — while still respecting U.S. Supreme Court precedent and all relevant laws — including the First Amendment. In my personal view, the new policy is much more intellectually defensible and easier to apply consistently.
“This is a great outcome for UCCS, the CU System, the Colorado Constitution, the U.S. Constitution, and the taxpayers of Colorado! Freedom has prevailed.”
The Ratio Christi lawsuit contained multiple detailed examples of the university allowing other student groups to restrict membership, let alone leadership, to students who agree with the organization’s principles.
Under the old policy, homophobic bigots could take control of an LGBT group. Trophy hunters could take over small vegan groups, or atheists could command control of religious clubs. On today’s politically charged campuses, activists infiltrate groups with intent to “reform” or destroy them. That is why groups reasonably try to restrict leadership to members who defend the organization’s purpose.
Only imagination limits possibilities of student activists joining groups en masse to take over leadership positions. What can happen usually will happen.
The Gazette warned in February that UCCS was likely to lose the lawsuit in federal court. We based the opinion, in part, on a recent federal court ruling against the University of Iowa for actions similar to those of UCCS.
Iowa administrators refused to recognize and fund Business Leaders in Christ. That group has a less sympathetic gripe than the UCCS club. It does not let anyone join — much less lead —who does not agree to a statement of faith. The Iowa club’s statement includes a commitment to avoid sex outside the marriage of a man and woman.
Liberal Democratic Judge Stephanie M. Rose, appointed by President Barack Obama, said the university unfairly discriminated against the conservative Christian group because it unevenly applied the policy. It was the claim made by lawyers for the UCCS students and backed by documented examples.
CU Vice President Patrick O’Rourke, university counsel and secretary of the Board of Regents, explains the policy will uphold the university’s prohibition against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, pregnancy, age, disability, creed, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, veteran status, political affiliation or political philosophy. That means a Jew could serve as president of a Muslim club, but may be required to sign a statement of obedience to the Quran and Shariah.
“Theoretically you could have a Republican lead a Democratic group, but that person may need to sign a pledge to uphold the organization’s Democratic mission,” O’Rourke said. “We want a lot of different clubs and organizations so we can expose students to a variety of ideas.”
CU’s new policy strikes a good balance. It allows any student to join any group funded by student fees. That’s as it should be. Vegans should welcome meat eaters and then show them another way. Christians should welcome non-Christians to learn about Christ. LGBT groups should welcome heterosexuals, so they can learn about the challenges endured by people with other sexual orientations.
Leaders of a group, by contrast, play a fundamental role in preserving, protecting and promoting an organization’s charter. The synagogue can survive atheists and Muslims in the pews; it needs a rabbi at the pulpit.