Virginia Passes Law Protecting Religious Pluralism on Campus

March 27, 2013

RICHMOND, Va., March 27, 2013—Last Friday, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed a number of bills into law including the Student Group Protection Act, which guarantees freedom of association for religious and ideological belief-based student organizations and protects the right of those campus groups to choose leaders who share those beliefs. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) had urged the passage of the law, which was spearheaded by state senator Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg.

“FIRE commends Governor McDonnell, Senator Obenshain, and all of the Virginia Delegates and Senators who worked to pass the Act,” said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. “College campuses have long hosted religious and ideological student groups of all types so that students would have the opportunity to be part of a group that satisfies their faith, their passion, or their politics. Guaranteeing those groups the right to hold their leaders to belief-based standards is a vital part of ensuring that a pluralistic and diverse culture can exist on campus.”

The law will prevent Virginia’s public colleges and universities from adopting so-called “all-comers” policies that require student groups to accept all students as members and leaders, regardless of whether or not they agree with the group’s mission, and even if they are only there to undermine or even destroy the group. Most infamously, an all-comers policy now enforced at Vanderbilt University (with exceptions for fraternities and sororities) led to the forced departure from campus of no fewer than 13 religious groups.

Regarding the law’s passage, Senator Obenshain remarked, “By ensuring that organizations continue to be able to define themselves by their own particular views, goals, and affiliations, my legislation will ensure that a diversity of viewpoints will continue to have expression on campuses across Virginia.”

The states of Idaho and Tennessee are currently considering similar legislation, while Ohio has already passed such a law. “FIRE hopes that more states will understand the need to act quickly and carefully to protect pluralism on campus,” said Lukianoff.

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 on campuses across America are described at thefire.org.

CONTACT:
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; greg_lukianoff@thefire.org