Univ. of North Carolina Won’t Recognize Christian Group

August 12, 2004

For the second time in less than two years, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) has denied recognition to a Christian group, claiming that the group’s desire to limit its membership to Christians constitutes “discrimination.”


“A Christian group has a right to be Christian, a Muslim group has a right to be Muslim, and a Jewish group has a right to be Jewish,” said David French, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “It seems absurd that anyone in a free society would have to make this argument, but time and time again FIRE has had to fight for this  constitutional right at universities.”


The Alpha Iota Omega Christian fraternity (AIO) at UNC contacted FIRE when, according to AIO leaders, the university suspended the group’s recognition and froze its university account and Web access without warning.


This occurred after AIO objected to signing an agreement which would have prohibited the use of religious affiliation as a criterion for membership — because following such a policy would defeat the very purpose of having a Christian fraternity.


Unrecognized groups do not have official rights at UNC and may not reserve space on campus, apply for funding from mandatory student fees, or take advantage of a variety of other rights and privileges that all recognized groups enjoy.


UNC’s decision is all the more shocking in light of the fact that this is the second time in less than two years that FIRE has had to intervene on behalf of a religious student group suffering from discrimination at the hands of UNC’s administration.


In December of 2002, the very same UNC administrators attempted to force the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship to remove a provision of its constitution that required the officers of that Christian group be Christian.


UNC quickly reversed this decision after FIRE publicly exposed its unconstitutional and illiberal actions.


UNC’s latest episode of discrimination against religious students began during the fall of 2003, when Segun Olagunju, at that time AIO’s president, met with Jonathan Curtis, UNC’s assistant director for student activities and organizations, to discuss his concerns about the group’s application for recognition.


“For more than twenty years, it has been the law that public universities must provide equal access to religious student organizations. These universities cannot condition that access on the adoption of nondiscrimination  regulations that strike at the heart of the religious character of the group,” said FIRE’s French.


In July of 2004, FIRE wrote to UNC Chancellor James Moeser, saying: “UNC simply may not use its nondiscrimination policy to dictate how religious student organizations must deal with matters of faith. If UNC allows expressive organizations to exist at all on its campus, then it must allow religious organizations to exist, to select their own members, and to establish policies and practices in pursuit of their goals. No group can control the content of its message if it is unable to choose its messengers.”


While FIRE also expressed a desire to resolve the matter amicably, UNC has yet to attempt to refute the students’ claims or even to defend its actions.


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.

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Schools: University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill Cases: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Denial of Freedom of Association for Christian Fraternity