BOISE, Idaho, April 2, 2013—Last Friday, Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter signed into law a new section of the Idaho Code governing "campus access for religious students," which guarantees freedom of association for religious student organizations and protects the right of those campus groups to choose leaders who share their core beliefs. The law, which passed with overwhelming margins in the Idaho House and Senate, was spearheaded by State Senator Curt McKenzie and follows Virginia’s passage of a similar law less than two weeks ago.
"FIRE thanks Governor Otter, Senator McKenzie, and all of the Idaho Senators and Representatives who worked to pass this important bill," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "College students deserve the right to freely organize around shared and sincere religious beliefs. The freedom to have belief-based requirements for group leaders is a necessary part of ensuring that a pluralistic and diverse culture can exist on campus."
The law will prevent Idaho’s public colleges and universities from adopting so-called "all-comers" policies that require religious student organizations to accept all students as leaders, regardless of whether or not they agree with the group’s mission and core beliefs, and even if they are only there to undermine or destroy the group. While the vast majority of universities nationwide allow such groups to enforce belief-based requirements, recent growth in all-comers policies preventing student groups from making belief-based decisions about their own leadership has led to the passage of laws like Idaho’s. Most infamously, one such 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.
The state of Tennessee is currently considering similar legislation, while Ohio and Virginia have already passed laws protecting pluralism on campus. "FIRE hopes that the law’s passage will help Idaho’s universities—and universities across the nation—understand the need to preserve freedom of association not just of religious student groups but of all belief-based student groups," said FIRE Legislative and Policy Director Joe Cohn.
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.