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FIRE Has Seen Notre Dame’s Redundancy Argument Before

By June 24, 2014

In May, FIRE wrote to the University of Notre Dame in defense of Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP). SCOP, a student group that generated controversy on campus because of its opposition to same-sex marriage, was denied official recognition by Notre Dame’s student-led Club Coordination Council (CCC) in April. The CCC claimed that SCOP “closely mirrors” the existing student groups Orestes Brownson Council (OBC) and Children’s Defense Fund (CDF), and is therefore redundant.

That’s a weak justification for rejecting SCOP.

FIRE pointed out the absurdity of Notre Dame’s redundancy claim in our letter to its president, Reverend John I. Jenkins. SCOP focuses solely on marriage-related policy efforts, while OBC focuses on a number of wide-ranging issues related to the Catholic Church. What’s more, while SCOP is officially nonsectarian, OBC’s website notes that it “seeks to make Notre Dame an orthodox Catholic institution,” and its Statement of Principles declares: “We believe in one Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, the authority of the Holy Father in Rome, the saving grace of the sacraments, and the Truth of Church doctrine.”

SCOP’s similarity to CDF strains credibility even further. As FIRE Senior Vice President Robert Shibley noted recently in the Daily Caller:

The national organization is generally regarded as left-leaning; its “best-known alum” is Hillary Clinton, and its founder and president, Marian Wright Edelman, is a social activist who credits Howard Zinn (her former professor) for expanding her horizons. It is highly unlikely that the group would actively promote SCOP’s socially conservative views on marriage. What’s more, the Notre Dame branch of the CDF may not even be currently active; its website states that it has not been updated since 2007.

Adding to the suspicious circumstances, redundancy appears to be a problem to the CCC only in SCOP’s case. As we noted in our letter, one look at Notre Dame’s list of other student organizations reveals a number of potentially redundant groups:

Notre Dame lists as recognized organizations two environmental groups: Students for Environmental Action and GreeND. It also recognizes the Latino Student Alliance (La Alianza) and MEChA (Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan). It also, unsurprisingly, has several organizations devoted to exploring the Roman Catholic faith and lifestyle, including the Campus Fellowship of the Holy Spirit, Communion and Liberation of Notre Dame, Iron Sharpens Iron, Filii Marie, and Militia Immaculata.

The claim that SCOP is redundant at Notre Dame doesn’t hold up under even basic scrutiny. Far more likely is that SCOP’s controversial mission led to the denial of recognition. A student-led petition, “Students Against SCOP,” argued against SCOP’s recognition, claiming the group promoted intolerance, and it garnered over 600 signatures. In its response letter to FIRE, Notre Dame denied that SCOP’s message played a role in the decision to refuse the group recognition, but FIRE remains unconvinced—in part because we have seen this many times before.

Unfortunately, Notre Dame isn’t the only institution to cite bogus claims of “redundancy” to deny recognition to student groups. Student groups at Catholic University of America (CUA), the University of Miami (UM), and the University of South Florida (USF) have all denied recognition to student groups under suspicious circumstances and cited the redundancy rationale.

At CUA, a university NAACP chapter was denied recognition because other minority groups already existed on campus. Despite admitting that part of its opposition to the group’s approval was the NAACP’s pro-choice stance, CUA still claimed redundancy was the primary reason for its denial. FIRE intervened and sent a letter asking CUA to prove its stated commitment to free speech and approve the group. Although the process took months, CUA officials finally reversed their decision and recognized the NAACP student group.

The stories are similar at UM and USF. At UM, prospective student group Advocates for Conservative Thought (ACT) was denied recognition four times by the student-run Committee on Student Organizations (COSO). FIRE stepped in and contacted UM’s president, who acknowledged FIRE’s concern, overturned COSO’s decision, and recognized ACT. At USF, the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) was denied recognition because of its purported similarity to the libertarian group Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). After FIRE explained to the school that YAF and YAL were similar only in name, not message, USF reversed its decision.

The only redundancy evident here is universities’ tendency to repeatedly deny recognition to controversial student groups. Notre Dame has a responsibility to retire the overused redundancy argument, just as CUA, UM, and USF all did.

Schools: University of Notre Dame Cases: University of Notre Dame: Student Group Supporting Traditional Marriage Policy Denied Recognition