California State System Sticks It To Religious Groups

December 19, 2005

Something is rotten—or at least decomposing—in the state of California.  And I think it’s the Constitution.
FIRE’s press release today details how Cal State San Bernardino recently denied recognition to the Christian Student Association (CSA), a student group whose constitution requires its members to sign a Statement of Faith that affirms such basic Christian tenets as the sanctity of the Bible and the sinfulness of extra-marital sex. CSA included these provisions in its constitution to ensure that only students who share the central beliefs of the CSA become members and officers in the group. Such provisions, however, are not permissible at the 23 schools within the California State System, which obviously does not recognize a group’s right to govern itself according to its own principles. The Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) has filed a legal challenge to this policy.
The nondiscrimination policies at the Cal State schools aim to ensure that all student organizations are equally open to all students. On the surface, this seems fair enough. The only problem with that goal is that all student organizations are not meant to be open to all students. Indeed, students start organizations so that they can associate with a distinct group of individuals, united by a common interest, goal, or belief. Student groups are not microcosms for the university at large, but exist for a certain purpose; they should not be forced to admit members who do not agree with that purpose. If I do not believe that Jesus is the son of God, then I have no right to join a group whose very purpose is to propagate the belief in the divinity of Jesus. Likewise, if I start a group with the central mission of advocating the rights of gay and lesbian students, then I would hope to exclude students who consider gays and lesbians to be second-class citizens.    
FIRE has waged successful challenges against similar policies at Louisiana State, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue, Rutgers, Tufts, UNC and Princeton. Cal State San Bernardino is just the latest in a series of universities that have forsaken students’ Constitutional right to freedom of association in the name of administrators’ visions of perfect communities, where everyone is included in everything and there are no disagreements. Cal State San Bernardino would be wise to learn that student groups should reflect the goals and principles of the students that form them, not the utopian aspirations of university administrators.