Nationwide: “All-comers” Policies Jeopardize Free Association

Category: Freedom of Conscience

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  • ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’ Examines Derecognition of Christian Student Groups

    October 13, 2014

    Writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education last week, Christopher Shea took a thorough look at the legal and practical circumstances surrounding the California State University System’s decision to derecognize the student group InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the system’s 23 campuses because of the group’s refusal to adopt an “all-comers” policy. All-comers policies require groups to accept any student, even as a voting member or leader, and even when that student is hostile to the mission of the group, thus putting the core message and beliefs of the group at risk. Shea covers the inconsistent legal precedent governing this issue, […]

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  • California Students Fight for Free Association with New Organization

    October 6, 2014

    We’ve been telling you here on The Torch about how so-called “all-comers” policies are slowly dismantling freedom of association on college campuses across the country. These policies, which state that student groups may not require members or leaders to hold the beliefs espoused by the organization, have been responsible for the mass exodus of religious organizations from Vanderbilt University. And now the 23-campus California State University (CSU) system, which adopted an all comers policy a few years ago, has used the policy to derecognize InterVarsity Christian Fellowship chapters throughout the system. Like at Vanderbilt, students are not taking this change […]

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  • Cal State’s Mass Derecognition of Christian Student Groups Draws Criticism from FIRE Chairman, Board Member

    September 19, 2014

    To close out a busy week here at FIRE, FIRE Chairman and Co-founder Harvey Silverglate has an insightful opinion piece in today’s Wall Street Journal about the California State University System’s recent decision to withdraw recognition from the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at the system’s 23 campuses, which enroll nearly 447,000 students. As Harvey writes, Cal State’s decision to enforce a so-called “all-comers” policy—under which all student groups must accept all students as voting members and leaders, regardless of belief—is a stinging defeat for freedom of association on campus: The new policy has insidious implications. Any student may attend IVCF meetings […]

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  • A Victim of Vanderbilt’s So-Called ‘All-Comers’ Policy Speaks Out

    August 27, 2014

    Tish Harrison Warren, a former religious student group leader at Vanderbilt University, has authored a poignant article in Christianity Today about the effect on her life of a policy decision Vanderbilt made two years ago.

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  • Idaho Passes Law Protecting Religious Pluralism on Campus

    April 2, 2013

    Here’s today’s press release:  BOISE, Idaho, April 2, 2013—Last Friday, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law a new section of the Idaho Code governing “campus access for religious students,” which guarantees freedom of association for religious student organizations and protects the right of those campus groups to choose leaders who share their core beliefs. The law, which passed with overwhelming margins in the Idaho House and Senate, was spearheaded by State Senator Curt McKenzie and follows Virginia’s passage of a similar law less than two weeks ago. “FIRE thanks Governor Otter, Senator McKenzie, and all of the Idaho Senators […]

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  • Idaho Passes Law Protecting Religious Pluralism on Campus

    April 2, 2013

    BOISE, Idaho, April 2, 2013—Last Friday, Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter signed into law a new section of the Idaho Code governing “campus access for religious students,” which guarantees freedom of association for religious student organizations and protects the right of those campus groups to choose leaders who share their core beliefs. The law, which passed with overwhelming margins in the Idaho House and Senate, was spearheaded by State Senator Curt McKenzie and follows Virginia’s passage of a similar law less than two weeks ago. “FIRE thanks Governor Otter, Senator McKenzie, and all of the Idaho Senators and Representatives who worked […]

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  • State Laws Protecting Student Group Pluralism: Answering the Objections

    March 29, 2013

    Last week, Virginia passed a law guaranteeing the rights of belief-based student groups at Virginia public universities to make belief-based decisions about membership and leadership. This news has prompted objections from those who believe that the law allows for discrimination, particularly against LGBT students. This article in The Huffington Post, for example, contains a few common misconceptions about Virginia’s new Student Group Protection Act. I’d like to address those now, because as states continue to consider such laws, we will most likely see them pop up again.  Misconception #1: Laws allowing belief-based decision making for student expressive groups allow those […]

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  • Virginia Passes Law Protecting Religious Pluralism on Campus

    March 27, 2013

    As announced in today’s press release, there’s good news from the Commonwealth of Virginia, where Governor Bob McDonnell has signed a new law that champions the American tradition of pluralism by safeguarding the freedom of association of Virginia’s public college and university students. The new law states: § 23-9.2:12. Student organizations; rights and recognition. To the extent allowed by state and federal law: 1. A religious or political student organization may determine that ordering the organization’s internal affairs, selecting the organization’s leaders and members, defining the organization’s doctrines, and resolving the organization’s disputes are in furtherance of the organization’s religious […]

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  • Student Organization Bill Clears Idaho Legislature

    March 27, 2013

    There is good news for student associational rights to report out of Idaho, where last Thursday a bill (PDF) safeguarding the freedom of association of Idaho’s public college and university students passed in the House of Representatives. Having passed the state Senate on March 7, the bill now heads over to the Governor’s desk for signature.  The legislation states, in relevant part: 33-107D. CAMPUS ACCESS FOR RELIGIOUS STUDENTS. (1) No state postsecondary educational institution shall take any action or enforce any policy that would deny a religious student group any benefit available to any other student group based on the […]

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  • Student Column Urges Vanderbilt to Reconsider Stance on Belief-Based Groups

    August 23, 2012

    “Considering the damage it has done to the diversity of student organizations on campus, the policy deserves continued debate and Vanderbilt should reconsider its stance on the issue.” That’s what Vanderbilt University junior and 2011 FIRE intern Kenny Tan has to say about his school’s controversial “all-comers” policy, implemented during the 2011–2012 school year and in full effect as students head back to campus this week. Yesterday, Kenny penned an article for The Vanderbilt Hustler explaining the policy for new students, who may not be familiar with the debate.  Vandy’s all-comers policy requires that all registered student groups accept any […]

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  • FIRE’s New Video Featured in ‘Daily Caller’

    August 20, 2012

    Fresh off the release of our new short documentary, “Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges Are Driving Religious Groups Off Campus,” FIRE’s Robert Shibley has written a new column for The Daily Caller exploring the Vanderbilt case and the video’s message. Visit The Daily Caller to learn more and be sure to check out “Exiled from Vanderbilt”!

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  • New FIRE Video: How Religious Groups Were ‘Exiled from Vanderbilt,’ Featuring Larry Gatlin and Jonathan Rauch

    August 20, 2012

    Religious and political groups in the United States have traditionally been free to choose their leaders and members without interference from authorities. That’s no longer true at Vanderbilt University, where the school banned belief-based groups from making belief-based decisions about their members and leaders and drove 13 religious student groups off of campus. In “Exiled from Vanderbilt: How Colleges are Driving Religious Groups Off Campus,” FIRE talks to Vanderbilt students and faculty about how this decision is affecting them. Country music legend Larry Gatlin and author and scholar Jonathan Rauch also explain why Vanderbilt has done both its students and the idea […]

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

    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. […]

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  • Fight for Religious Liberty Continues

    May 23, 2012

    In what can serve as an excellent lesson for campus officials who target the associational rights of their students, the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) has reversed its ruling against a campus religious group and will now allow the club to operate at UNCG. Citizen Link reports that the school reversed its denial of recognition to the Make Up Your Own Mind club after the Alliance Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the school for refusing to accept the club’s religious status and belief-based membership requirements. The decision comes in light of the ongoing debate at Vanderbilt University […]

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  • Vanderbilt Reaps What it Sows: Tennessee Legislature Passes Bill Banning ‘All Comers’ Policy

    May 2, 2012

    Vanderbilt’s assault on religious liberty on campus looks like it’s headed for a crushing, if utterly predictable, defeat. Last night, the Tennessee legislature overwhelmingly passed a bill that would ban Tennessee’s public universities as well as any private university that gets more than $24 million in funding a year (there’s only one: Vanderbilt!) from telling religious student groups that they can’t have belief-based requirements for membership or leadership. Interestingly, the legislature did give Vanderbilt an out: If it’s willing to apply an “all comers” policy to fraternities, sororities, and all other groups as well, it can keep its “all comers” […]

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  • Vanderbilt Update: Board of Trust Urged to Reverse Discriminatory Policy

    April 19, 2012

    Vanderbilt University’s Board of Trust is meeting late this week in the context of a hailstorm of local and national criticism of Vanderbilt’s new, discriminatory policy. The new policy, which prohibits belief-based student organizations from requiring that their leaders share the group’s beliefs, has sent the organization Vanderbilt Catholic off campus (the organization may not use Vanderbilt’s name anymore) and led 11 student organizations to defy the ban. FIRE has been fighting for religious liberty at Vanderbilt since last September, and in October, 23 members of Congress intervened to no avail.  State legislators in Tennessee are now working to ban […]

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  • 11 More Vanderbilt Student Groups Revolt over New Discriminatory Policy

    April 11, 2012

    After Vanderbilt University issued a new, discriminatory policy that prevents religious student groups from maintaining belief-based membership and leadership requirements, 11 Vanderbilt student organizations have refused to accept second-class status at the university because of their beliefs. Organized together as Vanderbilt Solidarity, these organizations have applied for recognition as belief-based groups. Their decision follows the choice of the student group Vanderbilt Catholic to accept self-exile by no longer officially registering with Vanderbilt rather than lose its unique identity.  Vanderbilt has refused to permit belief-based groups to maintain their missions despite significant national outrage, including intervention by FIRE and many others. […]

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  • ‘Huffington Post’: Catholic Group Withdraws from Vanderbilt over New Policy

    April 9, 2012

    FIRE is not alone in noting that the student organization Vanderbilt Catholic has withdrawn from Vanderbilt University due to Vanderbilt University’s infringement on student groups’ freedom of association. Writing for The Huffington Post, Tyler Kingkade points out that under Vanderbilt’s new non-discrimination policy, a faith-based organization like Vanderbilt Catholic can no longer require that leaders of the group share its core beliefs and values. This fundamental denial of students’ right to associate around shared beliefs has forced Vanderbilt Catholic (and possibly other groups in the near future) to disaffiliate with the school and lose official student organization status, which means […]

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  • Vanderbilt Drives Out the Catholics–Who’s Next?

    March 29, 2012

    When Vanderbilt University introduced its new “nondiscrimination policy” for registered student organizations back in January of this year, the Vandy administration was met with an irate group of students from religious student organizations that would be negatively affected by the new rule. As these students—along with many other organizations and individuals, including the Christian Legal Society, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nashville, the American Center for Law and Justice, more than half a dozen law professors, and 23 members of the U.S. Congress—pointed out at the time, the policy essentially dictates that religious and political organizations cannot determine their leadership […]

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  • Law Professor Explores Freedom of Association Controversy at Vanderbilt

    March 20, 2012

    In an article for the Witherspoon Institute’s Public Discourse last week, University of St. Thomas law professor Michael Stokes Paulsen addresses Vanderbilt University’s controversial decision to institute an “all-comers” policy for student organizations on campus. As Paulsen explains, the policy forbids students groups from “impos[ing] faith-based or belief-based requirements for membership or leadership.” In his piece, Paulsen explores what he calls the “irony” of the constitutional principles and court decisions relating to freedom of expressive association, noting that the same freedom that protects the rights of individuals to form organizations based on shared beliefs also guards Vanderbilt’s ability as a […]

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  • All-Comers Supporters: Don’t Worry, Bad Things will ‘Never Happen’!

    February 23, 2012

    If tomorrow the laws against insider trading were revoked in their entirety, would you expect more insider trading to take place, or about the same amount? If you think more would result, congratulations; you apply logic the way most people do. But if you think there would be no effect, I think I might have found someone who agrees with you. In a recent Associated Press article about the trend of universities considering the adoption of “all-comers” policies banning belief-based student groups from making belief-based choices about their membership or leadership, I was quoted warning of some of the potential […]

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  • Help FIRE Defend Liberty on Campus

    February 23, 2012

    This year is shaping up to be an important one for campus liberty. In the past two months alone, we celebrated the inclusion of the University of Mississippi on our exclusive list of “green light” schools, won an important legal victory in Barnes v. Zaccari, and secured a quick resolution to an outrageous case at Syracuse University. Each of these victories provides testament to our continued commitment to defending the expressive rights of students and faculty on campus. And, of course, today we announced a lawsuit aimed at removing an unconstitutional speech code at the University of Cincinnati. But a […]

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  • FIRE in ‘National Review Online’ on Impact of Discriminatory ‘All-Comers’ Policy at Vanderbilt

    February 6, 2012

    This morning in National Review Online, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley explores the negative impact of the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez for students at Vanderbilt and nationwide. Focusing on Vanderbilt University’s recent invocation of the case to justify its decision to ban belief-based student groups from requiring that group leaders actually share the group’s stated values, Robert writes: The complications of adopting ["all-comers"] policies have delayed their adoption by many public universities. Ohio even passed a law against such policies at its state schools. Yet the Supreme Court’s seeming endorsement inspired Vanderbilt to […]

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  • After Vandy’s Ill-Advised Choice, Revisiting ‘CLS v. Martinez’ Warning

    February 1, 2012

    Last night, Vanderbilt University held a “town hall”discussion of its decision to require registered student groups to accept all students in leadership positions, barring belief-based student groups from requiring that leaders actually agree with the group’s stated mission. According to The Tennessean, more than 200 students participated, and FIRE has received reports from students that the discussion, planned for 90 minutes, ran for over three hours.   Vanderbilt student publication InsideVandy.com reported that tensions were extraordinarily high:  This pressure reached its breaking point when starting quarterback for the Vanderbilt Commodores Jordan Rodgers spoke out on behalf of the Fellowship for Christian Athletes, a group currently […]

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  • Debate Over Religious Freedom Comes to a Head at Vanderbilt

    January 31, 2012

    This evening, Vanderbilt University will hold a town hall “discussion” about its new nondiscrimination policy that prevents belief-based student groups from making belief-based decisions about their leadership. Vanderbilt effectively is discriminating against political and religious groups that seek to promote a common message. Vanderbilt has told students that their organizations are engaging in prohibited discrimination if they require that leaders of the Vanderbilt College Democrats be Democrats, that Christian groups be Christian, that Muslim groups be Muslim, that single-sex singing groups maintain their identity, or that political publications exclude students who do not share their views. This is huge news […]

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  • FIRE’s Open Letter to Vanderbilt Regarding Religious and Political Organizations

    January 27, 2012

    In an open letter today, FIRE asks Vanderbilt University Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos important questions about how Vanderbilt will handle the ramifications of its recent decision to ban political and religious student groups on campus from making leadership decisions based on their core beliefs. FIRE points out that Vanderbilt must be willing to explain whether the university will, for example, force a Muslim group whose leader converts to Christianity to retain that person as a leader, or whether politically oriented student newspapers will now be forced to accept columnists who denigrate the newspaper’s own beliefs.  The full text of the letter […]

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  • George Will Castigates Vanderbilt for Discrimination Against Belief-Based Student Groups

    November 3, 2011

    Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist George Will, writing in The Washington Post, takes Vanderbilt University to task for its new policy prohibiting certain student organizations from instituting belief-based requirements that their members or officers affirm the official values of the group. FIRE has been actively working to turn back this violation of student groups’ right to freedom of association, as have 23 members of Congress. Most recently, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley wrote about the matter in The Daily Caller. (Will’s column also points readers to this Torch piece on the case that Robert wrote in September.) Will reminds us of the Supreme Court’s previous wisdom on freedom of association-which […]

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  • Robert on Vanderbilt’s Nondiscrimination Policy Issues in ‘The Daily Caller’

    November 1, 2011

    In light of recent transgressions by Vanderbilt University against the freedoms of religion and association, FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley has penned an opinion article in The Daily Caller bringing some attention to the absurdity of Vanderbilt’s student group policies when dealing with the Vanderbilt chapter of the Christian Legal Society (CLS) and other religious student groups. Robert writes: Nobody should be surprised that religious groups, on or off campus, prefer to be led by people who share their faith. Demanding that a religious student group not ask its leaders to share the beliefs of the group serves no one. Who benefits when nonbelievers have […]

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