Fellowship banned for requiring voting members be Christians

March 3, 2009

A Christian fellowship group that has been on the Wright State University campus for over 30 years was denied registration as a student group this year for its faith-based policies.

Representatives of Campus Bible Fellowship, which ministers to students at secular colleges, reported that they were turned down by school officials earlier this year when they tried to re-register the group.

The Office of Student Activities at the Ohio-based university named two reasons for the denial, according to CBF representatives.

First, CBF refused to adopt university-mandated nondiscrimination language in its membership requirements that would have forced the group to nix a requirement that voting members maintain religious and behavioral standards.

Second, Wright State objected to the requirement in CBF’s constitution that voting members "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior" and subscribe to the group’s articles of faith.

The group, which primarily emphasizes Bible study, has not been able to meet on the campus since and has turned to a civil liberties group for help.

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), which defends First Amendment rights – including religious liberty – on college campuses, has written a letter to university’s president, calling for an immediate reversal of the ban on the Wright State CBF chapter.

"A Christian group has the right to be Christian, a Jewish group has the right to be Jewish, and a Muslim group has the right to be Muslim," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff.

"Courts have affirmed this principle time and time again," he added. "It is shocking that in a free society, public universities like Wright State still don’t seem to understand or respect this crucial component of religious liberty."

The Feb. 12 letter from FIRE to Wright State President David R. Hopkins cited a federal legal precedent setting forth the principle that "if Wright State is to allow expressive organizations to exist on its campus at all, it must allow religious organizations to exist, to define their missions, [and] to select their own members."

According to FIRE, the university’s attorney Gwen Mattison had informed a FIRE representative over the phone that the ban would be lifted for the remainder of the academic year. However, when FIRE wrote in an e-mail, attempting to confirm the details of the phone conversation, Mattison dismissed the details as "incorrect."

The decision to ban CBF, said FIRE, goes against Wright State recognition procedures.

"It is understood that some student organizations may be created for the purpose of deepening the religious faith of students within the context of a denominational or interdenominational grouping, and that some student organizations may be created for the purpose of perpetuating a national cultural tradition," states a Student Handbook on student activities.

"Where these purposes are clearly stated in the constitution or bylaws of a student organization and appear to be reasonable, a student organization may be granted recognition through customary procedures as an exception to this policy," the handbook reads.

Robert L. Shibley, FIRE’s vice president, said the university should repeal its decision before the matter ends up in court.

"It makes no sense for the university to force a group that exists to communicate its version of the Christian message to accept voting members or leaders who reject that very message," said Shibley.

Schools: Wright State University Cases: Wright State University: Christian Group Banned from Campus