Christian Fraternity Sues U. of North Carolina Over Chapel Hill’s Refusal to Recognize It

September 10, 2004

A Christian fraternity at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill sued the university in late August for refusing to recognize the group because it does not allow non-Christians to join.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in Greensboro, N.C., argues that the university’s refusal to recognize the fraternity, Alpha Iota Omega, violates the group’s First Amendment rights to the free expression of religion and free association of its members.

The university contends that membership in officially recognized student organizations “must be open to all students on a nondiscriminatory basis.”

The fraternity is being aided by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a Philadelphia-based watchdog group that has written letters to the university on the fraternity’s behalf.

“If the university is going to give access to classrooms and to student-fee funds, it has to do so on a viewpoint-neutral basis,” said David French, president of the group.

U.S. Rep. Walter B. Jones, a North Carolina Republican, has asked the U.S. Department of Education to look into the matter, calling it part of “an ongoing problem of censorship of Christian students” at the university.

In a written statement, the university said its policy “strikes the right balance” between students’ rights to freedom of association and the university’s obligation not to discriminate on the basis of religion.

The statement also cited the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment and North Carolina’s own Constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “race, color, religion, or national origin.

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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