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Student Organization Bill Clears Idaho Legislature

There is good news for student associational rights to report out of Idaho, where last Thursday a bill (PDF) safeguarding the freedom of association of Idaho's public college and university students passed in the House of Representatives. Having passed the state Senate on March 7, the bill now heads over to the Governor's desk for signature. 

The legislation states, in relevant part:

33-107D. CAMPUS ACCESS FOR RELIGIOUS STUDENTS. (1) No state postsecondary educational institution shall take any action or enforce any policy that would deny a religious student group any benefit available to any other student group based on the religious student group's requirement that its leaders adhere to its sincerely held religious beliefs or standards of conduct.

(2) As used in this section:

(a) "Benefits" include without limitation:

(i) Recognition;

(ii) Registration; 

(iii) The use of facilities at the state postsecondary educational institution for meetings or speaking purposes;

(iv) The use of channels of communication of the state postsecondary educational institution; and

(v) Funding sources that are otherwise available to any other student group through the state postsecondary educational institution. 

The legislation is a response to the Supreme Court of the United States' disappointing decision in 2010's Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, in which the Court held that public universities do not violate the First Amendment by adopting "all-comers" policies that require student organizations to admit any student as a voting member or officer, regardless of whether that student openly disagrees with or is even hostile to the group's fundamental beliefs. For more on FIRE's assessment of the Court's decision in Martinez, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.

By prohibiting public colleges and universities in Idaho from instituting all-comers policies, this legislation's passage will ensure that Idaho's public college students maintain the right to choose their own leaders, to freely associate on the basis of shared belief, and to voice the message of their choice. 

We appreciate the efforts of the law's primary sponsors, Senators Curt McKenzie, Sheryl Nuxoll, John Tippets, and Branden Durst, as well as Representative Lynn Luker, and the many Idaho legislators who voted for this measure. We look forward to announcing that Governor Otter has signed the bill into law here on The Torch

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