Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Suit Charges Calif. Universities Violated Christian Student Groups' Rights

S! D! S! U! SDSU! Aztecs Fight! ... erm ... wait a minute, don't fight the Christians.

Suit Charges Calif. Universities Violated Christian Student Groups' Rights.

Two California universities are being sued for requiring Christian student groups to accept members who disagree with their religious beliefs. Last November, the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against San Diego State University and California State University at Long Beach, accusing the schools of violating the First Amendment rights of Christian organizations.

ADF filed the suit on behalf of a fraternity, a sorority, and two Christian student groups: respectively, Alpha Gamma Omega fraternity and Alpha Delta Chi sorority at San Diego State and the chapters of Every Nation Campus Ministries at San Diego State University and California State University at Long Beach. A summary judgment hearing in the case took place a week ago, and the judge's ruling is pending.

Attorney Jeremy Tedesco, ADF litigation counsel, believes the universities are impairing the Christian groups' ability to operate as they were intended to operate. "Each of those groups exists to spread the message of salvation, the evangelical Christian message of salvation, on campus and also to spread a message about sexual purity and maintaining abstinence until marriage," he notes.

However, officials with the universities named in the suit are insisting that these faith-based student groups "have to accept people into their groups who disagree with their religious beliefs and their standards regarding sexual conduct," Tedesco says. Religious organizations "can't exist and operate in our society," he asserts, "unless they can exclude people who disagree with who they are; otherwise, their message and their purpose for being will be completely undermined."

What the universities are saying, the ADF affiliate explains, "is that, as long as there's a policy prohibiting discrimination based on religion, religious organizations can be excluded from any governmental benefit program or forum for speech. That's the danger of these cases."

Tedesco feels the two California universities have used their policies to make an end run around the First Amendment. He believes the schools are acting unconstitutionally by refusing to allow Christian student groups to limit their membership to those who share their beliefs.

Religious organizations have a right to be religious, the Alliance attorney insists. What gives these groups their religious identity, he contends, is requiring their members and leaders to agree with what they advocate, and pressuring the groups to do otherwise violates their First Amendment freedoms of religion and of association.

The lawsuit against San Diego State University and California State University at Long Beach is part of ADF’s University Project, a nationwide effort to defend Christian student groups at universities from discrimination by campus officials. The right of association applies to all campus groups, Tedesco says, and all student groups -- including Christian organizations -- have the right to elect officers and members who share their values or belief system.