Freedom of Religion and Association in ‘The FIRE Quarterly’

October 17, 2006

Take a look at a new column from Greg in this fall’s FIRE Quarterly, where he discusses students’ freedom to associate in on-campus groups. Many of FIRE’s cases involve religious student organizations that are discriminated against for trying to limit their membership to students who share the same core religious beliefs. Greg writes:

Freedom of association means nothing if a group cannot exclude people who do not share its beliefs….Yes, we should all oppose discrimination on the basis of race or other immutable factors, but the right to “discriminate” on the basis of belief is the essence of freedom of association.

FIRE’s efforts to guarantee freedom of association for religious student groups have been successful at schools such as Ball State University, Louisiana State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ohio State University, Pennsylvania State University, Princeton University, and Purdue University. Earlier this year, FIRE joined an amicus brief to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in a case at Southern Illinois University, which had revoked the Christian Legal Society’s (CLS’s) official recognition and claimed that the group’s requirements were discriminatory. FIRE’s brief argued that a distinction exists between status (such as race or origin) and belief, and that organizations such as CLS “must be permitted to make belief-based choices when choosing their leaders and voting members.” The Seventh Circuit noted this same distinction and ordered Southern Illinois University to recognize CLS as an official student group.

FIRE will continue to work diligently for students’ rights to freely associate as long as these violations continue to occur. As Greg says:

These infringements will continue until colleges learn that it is intolerance, not tolerance, to deny students their basic rights of religious association or expression. For institutions that so often claim to value diversity, America’s colleges and universities must recognize that respect for students of faith contributes to, not detracts from, that diversity.