On Monday, Snow College, a small, public two-year college in Ephraim, Utah, became the latest institution to be hit with a federal lawsuit for allegedly denying recognition to a student group because of its religious identity.
According to The Salt Lake Tribune, the Solid Rock Christian Club (SRCC), which had received recognition from Snow College in the past, was told that "due to an internal audit, funding will not be allowed for religious organizations." Snow College’s Handbook for Clubs and Affiliated Organizations (PDF) states that "[m]embership eligibility [in student clubs] is without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, socio- economic status, political affiliation, or disability." It further states that "[t]he club must not be affiliated with any commercial or for-profit organization or religious institution."
If this situation sounds familiar, that’s because it is. It’s much like the controversy at the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo (SUNY–Buffalo) where the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student group was derecognized in April for requiring its leaders to endorse Christian beliefs, or like Vanderbilt University where religious student groups were exiled by a similar "all-comers" policy.
Of course, FIRE’s criticisms of "all-comers" policies are well-catalogued. We’ve certainly been outspoken about our opposition to Vanderbilt University’s "all-comers" policy. But thankfully there is a growing list of institutions, like SUNY-Buffalo and (just this week) the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, who have abandoned these troubling policies.
SRCC decided not to take its derecognition lying down, and instead filed a discrimination lawsuit. In a seemingly positive development, The Salt Lake Tribune reports:
Scott Wyatt, president of Snow College, said Tuesday the lawsuit may be a result of a misunderstanding. He said that after realizing the impact of the affiliate status on religious clubs, "we undid this." Wyatt, who said he just received a copy of the lawsuit and had not yet read it, said it is possible none of the clubs were aware of that course correction.
"The Solid Rock ministry is a very important organization for us," Wyatt said. "They serve a number of students and we value them highly and want to continue to be a support in every way we can of their mission and their goals. I think this lawsuit is largely a misunderstanding and am confident we will work it out in a good manner and everyone will be satisfied. I am just very confident in working through all this."
I am hopeful that Snow College has seen the errors of its ways and has decided not only to allow full recognition of the Solid Rock Christian Club, but also to scrap the problematic language in its Handbook for Clubs and Affiliated Organizations (PDF). You can rest assured that FIRE will keep a watchful eye on this situation as it develops and keep you posted as we learn more.