Princeton Does the Right Thing

By May 11, 2005

If there is one constant in modern academic censorship it is that conservative or orthodox religious groups consistently face high hurdles to recognition and campus existence. Whether administrative objections are rooted in concerns about “homophobia” or “religious discrimination” or simple distaste for “controversy”, Christian and now Muslim student organizations are facing an epidemic of attacks on basic free association rights. For a time, it looked as if Princeton University was going to join Tufts University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Rutgers University and many others in the religious liberty “hall of shame.” Princeton had denied recognition to an evangelical student group, Princeton Faith and Action (PFA), because—well, no one could really tell. The university imposes a unique requirement on religious organizations. Religious groups—and religious groups alone—must get approval from a dean before going through the formal group recognition process. This dean could deny recognition to religious groups for any reason or no reason at all, and in the case of PFA, that is exactly what he did.

If a public university were to require religious groups to endure an additional, arbitrary layer of review before recognition, such a requirement would be blatantly unconstitutional. Although Princeton is private, it certainly claims to respect student freedoms of expression, religion, and association. Consequently, FIRE wrote Princeton to express dismay at the university’s arbitrary actions and discriminatory policies. To its credit, Princeton responded almost immediately, not only pledging to put PFA through the standard recognition process but also promising the re-examine the problematic policies. FIRE hopes that this victory will provide even more encouragement for schools to provide equal rights to students of faith.

Schools: Princeton University