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Pace Student Group Still in Jeopardy: Administration Finds CLSA’s Constitution Contentious

FIRE last reported that the situation looked hopeful for the Christian Law Students’ Association (CLSA) at Pace Law School. The CLSA was denied recognition by the Student Bar Association (SBA), which thought that the CLSA constitution’s stated tenets of faith would make non-Christians or atheists feel unwelcome in the group, despite the CLSA’s explicit non-discrimination clause and statement that “everybody—Christian and non-Christians are welcome to be members and participate in club activities.”

FIRE’s hope that Pace would redeem itself by recognizing the CLSA sprang from a memo that Law School Dean Stephen Friedman sent out hours after FIRE’s press release, in which he stated his disagreement with the SBA’s decision. Friedman wrote that University Counsel Stephen Brodsky had some questions for CLSA president Cari Rincker, and that as long as her answers were satisfactory, the CLSA would be approved.

FIRE’s hope for a positive outcome began to dwindle on Thursday, when Rincker met with university counsel and co-counsel. Rincker’s request for legal representation during the meeting was denied. She reports that she was questioned extensively and aggressively about the purposes and activities of CLSA for forty-five minutes. Rincker’s summary of the Pace attorneys’ questions show that their concerns about the CLSA constitution lay close to the reasons the SBA denied the CLSA recognition. Rincker says the attorneys asked her questions like, “What does it mean that you appreciate diversity within the Christian faith?” and “Isn't indicating that CLSA represents all Christian denominations contrary with the fact that you include religion in the nondiscrimination clause?” Brodsky was reportedly particularly concerned by the fact that CLSA requires its officers to be “spiritual and professional” leaders for the club, since it would be difficult for an atheist to be a spiritual leader. They were also concerned that because officers of the club are required to attend meetings, and meetings include prayer, that students who refused to pray would be excluded from office. Rincker summarized the meeting by saying, “It went on like this until they put me in tears.”

Although the attorneys made no decision on the CLSA’s recognition at the conclusion of the meeting, this line of intense questioning points to a setback for the Pace CLSA. The CLSA has already altered its constitution once to accommodate the demand for a strict nondiscrimination statement. It seems that Pace will not be satisfied until the CLSA is stripped of its Christian character, thus nullifying the group’s stated purpose as an organization of freely associating Christian law students.

Rincker has a meeting with Dean Friedman tomorrow. Hopefully, that meeting will prove that our expectations that Pace would correct its previous errors by recognizing the CLSA were not far off. Stay tuned for updates on the CLSA’s struggle for status at Pace Law School.

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