Religious Students in the Twilight Zone: Threat to Religious Liberty—Again

By April 13, 2005

Imagine you’ve been part of a recognized religious student group for ten years on campus without a problem. During your eleventh year, because of the lack of active student membership, your group did not register for official recognition. After the one-year hiatus, your group decides to register again—with its original constitution and bylaws—to find that suddenly your group is no longer eligible for recognition because the student government thinks your religious beliefs are “discriminatory.” Sounds like a potential episode of The Twilight Zone, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, this is the reality that religious students face on today’s college campuses. FIRE just issued a press release relating the exact scenario above at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The ReJOYce in Jesus Campus Fellowship (RJCF) has been denied official recognition because it requires its members not to engage in, among other things, “homosexual behavior.” The student government not only accused the group of discriminating on the basis of “sexual preference,” but also claimed that it could not recognize RJCF because this would violate the student government’s duty to uphold state and university policies against discrimination. This ignores the fact that RJCF requires only voting members to abide by its standards of personal conduct—not individuals who simply wish to attend its meetings and activities. After FIRE wrote MSOE explaining that no state or federal law should be interpreted to violate the group’s right to freedom of religion, the student government, instead of recognizing the group with its current constitution and bylaws, requested that RJCF alter the language in its standards of personal conduct to be open to different interpretations of the Bible, passages from which RJCF cited as the bases for its standards. A student government official explained to RJCF that “organizational status will be very difficult to attain” if it did “nothing to remedy the situation” as “suggested.” Who knew that voluntary association and the practicing of one’s faith had to be remedied? Apparently, campus administrators seem to believe that “remedying” religious students’ consciences is a part of their duty to uphold the law. Thankfully, FIRE has been able to work to educate administrators about this alarming and shameful misunderstanding of the law and violation of individuals’ legal, moral, and human rights. Let’s hope that MSOE will remedy its own mistake quickly (as Louisiana State University did)—and live up to the promises it has made to respect its students religious freedom and freedom of association.

Schools: Milwaukee School of Engineering