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Pace Law School Dean Intervenes in Christian Organization Case

Hours after FIRE issued its press release yesterday announcing that the Student Bar Association (SBA) at Pace Law School denied recognition to the Christian Law Students’ Association (CLSA), Law School Dean Stephen Friedman announced that he disagreed with the SBA’s decision. In his memo, Friedman summarized the SBA’s position:

Based on my discussions with Dean [for Students Angela] D’Agostino and with representatives of the SBA, I understand that its decision rested on a conclusion that the listing of specific religious tenets in the proposed constitution of CLSA was inconsistent with the SBA’s belief that student organizations should be broad-based and inclusive – in this case, inclusive enough to make all Christian students comfortable with membership. The proposed constitution was amended to explicitly state “In the conduct of all aspects of its activities the Chapter shall not discriminate on the basis of age, disability, color, national origin, race, sex, religion or Christian denomination, sexual orientation, physical handicap or veteran status. CLSA welcomes all members of the Pace student body as well as professors and employees.” Nevertheless, the SBA believed that Christian students of other denominations would not be comfortable with the very specific list of religious tenets. Although other student organizations have a non-inclusive focus (the Pace Democrats, Pace Republicans, Pace Federalist Society, Pace Jewish Law Students Association, etc.), the SBA believed that the fact that none of those organizations list specific beliefs in their constitutions differentiated them from the proposed constitution of CLSA.

Friedman then acknowledged that although CLSA included specific tenets in its constitution, such as the statement that “there is One God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” the constitution also states that “[t]hose that disagree with any or all of the aforementioned beliefs are still welcome to be members of PCLS.” Determining that the CLSA will not limit membership on the basis of personal belief, Friedman wrote, “I have a great deal of respect for the care, thoughtfulness and transparency with which the SBA has proceeded in this matter, and it is with real reluctance that I have come to a different conclusion.” Friedman said that if the group is “open to all students in a nondiscriminatory manner,” which CLSA is, then “the listing of a specific set of beliefs (to which members are expressly not required to adhere) should not preclude official recognition.”

But Friedman stopped just short of recognizing the CLSA outright. He has passed the matter on to University Counsel Stephen Brodsky, who has “some further questions about some of the language of CLSA’s proposed constitution in light of University policies.” What those questions are, we do not know.

FIRE will follow the situation closely until CLSA achieves full recognition, on equal footing with Pace Law School’s many other ideological student groups.

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