Catholic University Reverses Decision on Student NAACP Chapter

October 14, 2004

( – The Catholic University of America (CUA) has reversed its decision to ban a chapter of the NAACP from its campus after calling it “unnecessary” because two other minority groups already existed on campus.

NAACP President and CEO Kweisi Mfume had threatened to sue the schools if it did not recognize the student NAACP chapter. Mfume called the school’s refusal “outright discrimination, bigotry, prejudice and intolerance all rolled into one. It is at the very least a double standard based on race and social philosophy.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a freedom of speech advocacy group which also put pressure on the school, welcomed the news, saying Catholic University’s “reversal signals that it is now prepared to honor its own policies protecting and promoting student freedoms of dissent and expression.”

“CUA has the right to define itself as a religious institution,” said FIRE President David French. “It also has the right to offer freedom of speech and association to its students – and its official policies indicated that it would do so. FIRE is pleased that CUA has chosen to fulfill its legal and moral obligation to live up to its own principles.”

Catholic University had objected to the national NAACP’s stance on abortion, saying that student groups were not allowed to advocate positions that run counter to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which sees abortion as a sin.

William Jawando, the student who had tried to form a student chapter of the NAACP on campus but was rejected in April 2003, was told by the school that two minority groups exist that would make the goals of the NAACP redundant.

According to FIRE, Jawando’s goals in starting the NAACP chapter were explicitly political and centered on civil rights, and neither of the other groups listed political or civil rights activism as one of its primary purposes. Jawando had also assured the school that the campus chapter of the NAACP would not address the issue of abortion.

FIRE wrote to the university’s president, Rev. David M. O’Connell in June pointing out the conflict between the school’s decision on the NAACP student chapter and the school’s own promises of freedom of expression and dissent.

The university responded in a letter saying the school would not reconsider the issue until the fall, despite Mfume’s threat to sue the school. After FIRE took the case to the public, O’Connell met with students last week and advised university officials to reconsider the April 2003 decision. The NAACP chapter was officially approved on Oct. 12.

French said his group hopes that “in the future CUA students will not be made to wait over a year to exercise their promised rights to free speech and expression on campus.”


Schools: The Catholic University of America Cases: Catholic University of America: Rejection of Campus NAACP Chapter