Developments are coming fast in the Wright State University case that FIRE took public yesterday. Mere hours after FIRE sent out its press release on the case, Wright State began sending the following statement to journalists making inquiries:
"Campus Bible Fellowship is a recognized student organization at Wright State. We do not discriminate on the basis of religion and we treat Campus Bible Fellowship like any other student group on campus," said Dan Abrahamowicz, vice president for student affairs at Wright State University. "We are in the process of reviewing the policy for recognizing students groups on campus. If there is a change in university policy, all student groups will have to abide by it, not just one or two. Campus Bible Fellowship will have to go through the same process every other student organization has to go through for re-recognition when we do that for the fall quarter. There is no distinction between it and any other student organization on Wright State’s campus."
This statement is deceptive and raises sophistry to an art form. Let’s take a closer look.
First, Wright State’s contention that Campus Bible Fellowship was recognized was news to Campus Bible Fellowship, which has been unable to meet on campus since January. This sudden re-recognition was clearly meant to confuse the media into thinking there was no story—notice that the statement says that "Campus Bible Fellowship is a recognized student organization." Wright State probably made the decision to recognize the group about five minutes before sending out this statement so that it would not be technically false, although it is meant to confuse the issue and hide the truth.
Those who read FIRE’s press release will recall that Wright State General Counsel Gwen Mattison told FIRE last Thursday that CBF would be re-recognized, but when FIRE wrote to Mattison to confirm the conversation, Mattison refused, replying only with "Incorrect–no other reply will be forthcoming." Mattison undoubtedly thought that was pretty clever at the time.
It’s funny how things change, though, when your unfair treatment of a religious group starts making the news. Here’s an e-mail that Campus Bible Fellowship’s president, Kylyn Magee, received at 6:02 pm yesterday:
From: Rick Danals [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Monday, March 02, 2009 6:02 PM
To: Kylyn Magee
Cc: firstname.lastname@example.org; email@example.com; ‘Dan Abrahamowicz'; ‘Gary Dickstein'; ‘Viki Harness’
Subject: Campus Bible Fellowship
This is a follow up on the registration status of Campus Bible Fellowship. As consistent with the communication Gwen Mattison, University General Counsel, had with a representative of FIRE, on Thursday, February 26, 2009, your organization will be registered for the remainder of the academic year through June 12, 2009. Your organization will need to attend training and apply for registered status consistent with all other student organizations on campus to be registered for the 2009-2010 academic year. Registered organizations will receive notification through their OrgSync account for the May training sessions. Your registration application on OrgSync was reopened last Thursday.
If you have any questions, please contact me.
Rick Danals, Ph.D.
Director of Student Activities
Wright State University
3640 Colonel Glenn Highway
Dayton, OH 45435
Now isn’t that interesting! Mattison herself would not confirm her conversation with FIRE, but Rick Danals actually cites the conversation when telling CBF that it has been re-recognized. And by the way, this e-mail acknowledges the fact that the group was not recognized until now when it says "Your registration application on OrgSync was reopened last Thursday." Why would it need to be reopened if the organization had been registered?
As if its deception on the matter of recognition wasn’t bad enough, Wright State has also seen fit to try to confuse people about the nature of its own unconstitutional decision. Wright State’s statement yesterday proclaims:
Campus Bible Fellowship will have to go through the same process every other student organization has to go through for re-recognition when we do that for the fall quarter. There is no distinction between it and any other student organization on Wright State’s campus.
Unfortunately, this is simply a restatement of the problem, not the solution! The entire point of this case is that Wright State’s one-size-fits-all "nondiscrimination" language actually discriminates against religious groups because it does not allow them to require voting members and leaders to share the group’s beliefs. Wright State’s policy demands the equivalent of forcing the College Democrats to allow Republicans to become voting members and leaders of the group. This is nonsensical and violates the group’s expressive rights.
University administrators have long learned the lessons of how to sound reasonable while actually doing the unreasonable. Treating all groups equally sounds great, but if your policies are constitutionally defective, it is no defense to say that these policies are equally enforced—particularly because doing so strips the expressive rights from some groups and not others.
FIRE is glad that Wright State has re-recognized CBF and that the group will once again be able to meet on campus, at least for this semester. But the university has done nothing to address the medium- and long-term problem with its policies. The unconstitutional policy is still on the books, and Wright State is still begging for a civil rights lawsuit. Having taken the first step towards respecting the rights of the Campus Bible Fellowship, Wright State now needs to finish the job.