Anti-Christian charges probed

August 19, 2004

The Education Department’s civil rights office has opened a second discrimination investigation of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which is accused by a congressman of “abusive policies” against Christian students.

Rep. Walter B. Jones, North Carolina Republican, requested the government inquiry on Monday after the university closed a Christian fraternity that refused to accept non-Christian members.

UNC Chancellor James Moeser said the decision to revoke the charter of the five-year-old Christian fraternity, Alpha Iota Omega (AIO), was made on grounds that the group is violating the school’s nondiscrimination policy by not allowing students to join regardless of their religious beliefs.

Forty-two other recognized student religious groups at the college with nearly 5,000 members – “the overwhelming majority of them being Christian” – abide by the university’s policy “by allowing membership and participation without regard to age, race, color, national origin, disability, sex or sexual orientation … An organization, religious or otherwise, cannot require members to have a ‘status,’ [such as] ‘be a Presbyterian,’ ” the chancellor said in a letter to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a civil-liberties group representing the fraternity.

“So, for example, Baptist student groups are open to Presbyterian students; Jewish student groups are open to Christian students; the Italian Club is open to Korean students; and the Black Student Movement is open to white students,” the chancellor said.

However, student groups “can require members to have an interest in the subject matter of the organization and to support its work,” he said.

FIRE President David French responded, “AIO is not interested in the religion of its members insofar as Christianity is a ‘status.’ Like being ‘Asian’ or ‘male.’ What is important to AIO is that its members subscribe to the certain ‘core of beliefs’ that make up Christianity … Members who did not and would never share these beliefs would unavoidably detract from the purpose of the fraternity.”

In his request for a federal civil rights probe, Mr. Jones said the university’s refusal to allow the fraternity continued access to campus facilities, services and programs was discriminatory.

“Alpha Iota Omega is the most recent victim of abusive policies at UNC,” Mr. Jones said in a letter to Kenneth Marcus, the Education Department’s acting assistant secretary for civil rights. “These actions constitute an outright violation of student rights to free speech, free exercise of religion and freedom of association.”

This is the second federal discrimination probe of UNC initiated by the North Carolina lawmaker this year. In February, he called for an investigation of anti-Christian bias by a UNC English professor who accused a male student of “hate speech” and of making “violent, heterosexist comments” during a class discussion about “Why do heterosexual men feel threatened by homosexuals? “

According to press accounts, the student had said, “Being a Christian, I would feel uncomfortable having to explain to my son at a baseball game why two homosexual men are kissing.”

He also said he disagreed that men felt threatened by homosexuals.

The professor, Elyse Crystall, then sent an e-mail to the entire class in which she called the comments “a perfect example of privilege, that a white, heterosexual, Christian male … can feel entitled to make violent, heterosexist comments and not feel marked or threatened or vulnerable is what privilege makes possible.”

Mr. Jones suggested in a letter to Mr. Moeser that the incident “appears to be part of a larger pattern of harassment of students who do not share the ideological bent of academics of the political and social left.”

Ms. Crystall’s e-mail brought an avalanche of student complaints to UNC administrators, according to documents provided to federal investigators, but the professor was not punished. She later apologized that her e-mail comments had “crossed a line and inhibited free discussion.”

Mr. Moeser, other UNC officials and Ms. Crystall didn’t return calls seeking comment.

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Schools: University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Cases: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Denial of Freedom of Association for Christian Fraternity