God and Man at Gonzaga

February 22, 2005

Recently, I received a letter from two third-year law students at Gonzaga University (GU) School of Law.  The students described your law school as one that is “secular” and which fraudulently holds itself out to be Catholic. They also stated they had experienced first-hand the school’s trampling of the rights of Christian students.  Specifically, they accused GU of violating the rights of their first Christian pro-life group.

As a preliminary matter, I understand that your “Catholic” law school has the words of Matthew 22:35-38 emblazoned on one of its walls:  “One of them, an expert in religious law, tried to trap him with this question, ‘Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the Law of Moses?’ Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.’”

Furthermore, I understand there are crucifixes hanging on the wall of every classroom of GU Law School. In fact, I believe there is a chapel on the third floor where noon mass is conducted four days a week.

Nonetheless, GU does seem to allow for tolerance of views not in line with Catholicism. In fact, many professors promote and/or support homosexual and abortion rights and the student clubs that support these causes. In fact, for two of the last three years, the student bar association was run by openly homosexual student presidents.

However, your tolerance for those who directly oppose Catholic doctrine is not always extended to those who support it. That is odd, given that you claim to be a Catholic University.

For example, I understand that the only two Christian clubs recently formed at the law school have been refused official recognition. In addition, members of the unofficial Christian club at your “Catholic” law school have reported that promotional signs have been regularly defaced, and that members have been falsely accused of honor code violations.

I am sure you are aware that, as a private university, Gonzaga is technically exempt from granting students freedom of religious expression under the First Amendment. But you must surely be aware that this exemption functions primarily as a way for religious schools to practice and promote their unique religious faith in all facets of institutional governance.

So, why then is Gonzaga using its exemption from the First Amendment to punish its religious students? These students merely seek to advance the same beliefs the school’s mission statements purport to advance.

Recently, your law students tried to form a Christian-based pro-life group, which required its executive leaders to sign a statement of Christian faith—much like another group, the Christian Legal Society.  Because of this single requirement, the Student Bar Association (SBA) denied the request for formal recognition.  It also denied the Christian Legal Society the same sanction.

The basis for denial, as I understand it, was that the club’s leadership requirement violated the University’s “non-discrimination” policy.  In other words, every club must allow any student the opportunity to hold offices in any club. How then does the university justify its own requirement that the President and the Board of Corporations be Jesuit priests? It seems that you not only allow yourself to discriminate, but you also discriminate in the way you apply your non-discrimination policy to others.

I recently learned that a gay SBA president previously attempted to dissuade your students from recognizing the aforementioned Christian-based pro-life group.  I also learned that he called a closed-door meeting to discuss the issue of the request for recognition with the members of the SBA executive board.  Out of that meeting came the mandate that they could not even request recognition in front of the SBA until they took out the Christian leadership requirement.

Previously, the Fox News Channel interviewed the club about this situation. There was “no comment” from the administration. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education even got involved by writing letters. But you still will not tell the SBA to recognize the group so they can use student fees to promote speakers and events.

The situation of forcing your Christian law students to pay mandatory student fees, which fund secular student groups, while their own club flounders in second-class status, is simply unacceptable. How long must your Christian students sit at the back of the bus? Have you considered separate water fountains for traditional Catholics?

Gonzaga Law School’s deplorable conduct towards its Christian students should serve as a warning to Catholic parents everywhere: avoid sending your Catholic children to GU.

Gonzaga University is committed to Catholic values like the KKK is committed to racial equality. In more ways than one, Catholics simply cannot afford to pay $26,250 tuition to fund that commitment.

Schools:  Gonzaga University

Cases:  Gonzaga University: Refusal to Recognize Christian Pro-Life Club