Victory for Religious Liberty at Milwaukee School of Engineering

By April 22, 2005

MILWAUKEE,
Wis., April 22, 2005—In a victory
for religious liberty and freedom of association, the Milwaukee School of
Engineering (MSOE) has granted full recognition to the ReJOYce
in Jesus Campus Fellowship (RJCF) student group. On Monday,
April 18, the school’s student government granted full recognition to all student
organizations with “temporary status,” which included RJCF. The student
government’s decision came after the Foundation for Individual Rights in
Education (FIRE) took the case public last week. Prior to FIRE’s intervention,
the student government had denied RJCF full recognition because of an article
in the group’s bylaws requiring members to live in accordance with the group’s
faith.

“Although this victory for religious freedom on campus is
welcome news, it is telling that MSOE chose to correct its mistake in such an
indirect way,” stated David French,
president of FIRE. “While we are pleased that MSOE’s student government has
reversed its earlier decision, MSOE administrators need to realize that RJCF
should never have faced such a battle in the first place.”

RJCF ran
into trouble in Fall 2004 when the group submitted its original constitution
and bylaws to apply for re-recognition after a year of inactivity. In January of
2005, MSOE’s Student Government Association (SGA) sent RJCF a letter stating
that it would not recognize the group because it believed RJCF’s “Standards of
Personal Conduct” discriminated on the basis of “sexual preference.” The SGA
justified its decision by stating that to allow such “discrimination” would
violate the student government’s duty to uphold state and university policies.

The SGA
granted RJCF “temporary status” until March 28 so that RJCF could revise its “Standards
of Personal Conduct,” which require that voting members not commit acts “expressly
forbidden in Scripture,” including “homosexual behavior” among others, and which
cite passages from the Bible that the group believes forbid such acts. Nonvoting
members are not required to abide by these standards in order to attend the
group’s meetings or activities.

After
the SGA’s decision, RJCF contacted FIRE for assistance. FIRE’s March 23 letter to
MSOE President Hermann Viets explained that the the SGA’s actions had violated
the school’s stated policies
supporting religious liberty and freedom of association, and reminded him that no
state or federal law prevents religious organizations from governing themselves
according to religious principles.

In late
March, the SGA extended RJCF’s temporary status until Fall 2005, but the SGA also
suggested that RJCF adopt weaker alternative language
for its standards of conduct that would allow for differing interpretations
of the Bible. In an e-mail to
RJCF’s advisor, a student official explained that without such changes, it
would be “very difficult” for RJCF to attain full recognition.

When
President Viets did not respond to FIRE’s concerns, FIRE took the case
public
on April 13.  Five days
later, according to MSOE’s Ingenium
newspaper, the SGA voted to grant full recognition to all student organizations
that were given “temporary status.” RJCF, along with the Muslim Students
Association and the Cigar and Pipe Social Club, became “full-fledged organizations with no funding restrictions or any other
probationary restrictions.”

“FIRE
hopes that MSOE will take steps to ensure that such infringements on students’
rights never happen again,” added French. “We are committed to fighting on
behalf of students at MSOE and across the country when a college or university reneges
on its promises of student freedom.”

FIRE is a nonprofit educational foundation that unites civil
rights and civil liberties leaders, scholars, journalists, and public
intellectuals from across the political and ideological spectrum on behalf of
individual rights, due process, freedom of expression, academic freedom, and
rights of conscience at our nation’s colleges and universities. FIRE’s efforts
to preserve liberty at MSOE and on campuses across America can be viewed at thefire.org.

CONTACT:

David French,
President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; david.french@thefire.org

Hermann Viets, President, Milwaukee School of Engineering: 414-277-7100;
viets@msoe.edu

Schools: Milwaukee School of Engineering