Belief-Based Student Groups Score a Win at SUNY – Buffalo

By on August 15, 2012

For some time now, Vanderbilt University has been ground zero in the battle to decide whether belief-based student groups on college campuses will be allowed to make membership and leadership decisions that are influenced by their core beliefs. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, this has been a thorny legal issue, one that has come to a head at Vanderbilt. Vanderbilt has taken a firm stance against student groups’ belief-based decisionmaking, enacting an extreme policy that even forbids religious groups from requiring their leaders to lead Bible studies, prayer, or worship. Why? Because that would imply that they have to believe in the Bible.

Unfortunately, Vanderbilt isn’t the only university that has been considering these ill-conceived restrictions. The State University of New York’s University at Buffalo (SUNY-Buffalo) actually derecognized the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student group in April for requiring its leaders to endorse Christian beliefs.

Thankfully, that isn’t the end of the story. InterVarsity appealed to the college’s Student Wide Judiciary (SWJ), which, according to a report from the Christian Post, “ruled last month that it is ‘common sense’ and not discrimination for a religious group to want its leaders to agree with its core beliefs.”

The Christian Post goes on to quote the SWJ decision as saying, “We cannot expect student organizations to ignore their defining purposes in selecting officers, and the pretense that we do has caused an unnecessary and harmful battle that pits ‘equality’ against the First Amendment rights of students.”

Well said, and we couldn’t agree more! FIRE is working on getting the text of the decision, but from the report, this looks like a burst of clear thinking at SUNY – Buffalo. If only Vanderbilt’s administrators were as respectful of common sense as the SWJ at SUNY – Buffalo, perhaps 13 student religious organizations would not have been effectively forced to leave Vandy’s campus this fall, which, any way you slice it, represents a clear loss for diversity of belief and pluralism at Vanderbilt. We hope Vanderbilt’s administration is paying attention to the developments at SUNY-Buffalo.

Schools: State University Of New York – University at Buffalo Vanderbilt University Cases: Nationwide: “All-comers” Policies Jeopardize Free Association Vanderbilt University: Refusal to Approve Constitutions of Student Groups that Require Leaders to Share Beliefs