CHAPEL HILL, N.C., August 25, 2004—A federal lawsuit was filed today against the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) by Alpha Iota Omega (AIO), a Christian fraternity that was denied recognition by UNC because it would not agree to open its membership to students of different faiths. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which is fighting on behalf of AIO in its conflict with UNC administrators, is now joined by the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF), which brought the suit against the university.
“For too long, UNC has denied religious groups the basic rights that all student groups should enjoy,” stated FIRE’s president, David French. “Freedom of association and expression mean little when student groups are forced to include people who disagree with the core beliefs of the organization.”
AIO’s lawsuit, which was filed in the United States District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, stems from an incident last fall in which UNC administrator Jonathan Curtis refused to extend the benefits of official recognition to AIO. The fraternity, whose mission is to train Christian leaders, objected to signing a “nondiscrimination” clause that would have forbidden it from considering religion when determining “membership and participation” in the group. UNC’s action is a violation of the fraternity’s rights to freedom of association, freedom of speech, and the free exercise of religion. ADF, a public interest legal organization based in Phoenix, Arizona, is conducting the litigation against UNC. Read AIO’s legal complaint against UNC.
The lawsuit adds to the tremendous pressure that FIRE has already brought to bear on UNC. FIRE has continued its campaign of public awareness in the hope that UNC will recognize its abuse of power and restore individual rights to its campus. FIRE’s campaign has also attracted the attention of U.S. Representative Walter Jones, who has called on the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights to examine UNC’s unjust refusal to grant official recognition to the Christian fraternity and possibly to other religious groups on campus.
Greg Lukianoff, FIRE’s director of legal and public advocacy, remarked, “UNC continues to argue falsely that federal law requires it to discriminate in this way against religious groups. The U.S. Constitution demands exactly the opposite, as it provides these students with freedom to associate according to their beliefs. UNC has made the decision not to allow a Christian group to remain Christian in defiance of the Constitution; now it must defend its decision in a court of law.”
This marks the second time in less than two years that UNC has attempted to deny a Christian organization its right to define its membership. In 2002, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship was also told its requirement that its leaders adhere to the Christian faith was “discriminatory.” UNC quickly reversed its decision after FIRE made the case public. Read about the 2002 UNC case here, and read FIRE’s previous coverage of the current UNC case here and here.
FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty at UNC and on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire.org.
Greg Lukianoff, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
David French, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
James Moeser, Chancellor, UNC-Chapel Hill: 919-962-1365; firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan Curtis, Assistant Director for Student Activities and Organizations, UNC-Chapel Hill: 919-962-1461; email@example.com