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Victory for Freedom of Association at Pace Law School
WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., August 8, 2007—After months of public pressure from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), Pace Law School has finally approved the constitution of the Christian Law Students Association (CLSA), allowing the group to pursue its religious mission. The CLSA’s status had been uncertain since January, when Pace objected to the group’s constitution, leaving members unsure if they could maintain the organization’s Christian character.
“We are pleased that Pace Law School has finally concluded that this Christian group deserves the same rights to freely associate as other ideological student organizations on campus,” FIRE Director of Legal and Public Advocacy Samantha Harris said. “The Pace community deserves no less than for the school to honor its commitment to uphold students’ rights to organize belief-based groups on campus.”
CLSA leader Cari Rincker tried to form a chapter of the national Christian Legal Society (CLS) in March 2006, calling her group the Pace Christian Legal Society (PCLS). In accordance with national CLS rules, she drafted a constitution that limited membership to students who were willing to sign and live by a statement of faith. The constitution also prohibited discrimination on the bases of “age, disability, color, national origin, race, sex, or veteran status”—but not on the bases of religion and sexual orientation.
When the proposed constitution was met with hostility on campus, Rincker revised the constitution to prohibit discrimination on the additional bases of “religion or Christian denomination” and “sexual orientation.” She also removed the requirement that members adhere to the statement of faith and even added, “Those that disagree with any or all of the aforementioned beliefs are still welcome to be members.” These amendments to the constitution meant that Rincker’s group could no longer call itself an affiliate of the national CLS, which maintains strict rules against granting membership to openly homosexual and non-Christian students. Rincker therefore changed the group’s name from the Pace Christian Legal Society to the Christian Law Students Association.
Despite the amended constitution, the existence of other groups such as the Jewish Law Students Association, and Pace’s clear promise to grant students freedom of association, at its November meeting the Student Bar Association rejected the group’s application for recognition. In a January 11, 2007, letter to then-Law School Dean Stephen J. Friedman, FIRE expressed its hope that “as leaders in the field of law and institutional governance, the Pace administration [would] step in where the Student Bar Association has failed, to correct its unjust, arbitrary, and discriminatory errors.” Friedman took that advice and promised to render a decision on the group’s recognition by January 29.
Yet an entire month passed before Friedman announced that Pace would provisionally recognize the CLSA, but that the university’s legal counsel had to review and possibly revise the CLSA constitution. Rincker reports she met with Pace Law School administrators late in the school year and reviewed the revised constitution, which both parties now find acceptable. The CLSA will begin the 2007-2008 school year as a fully recognized student group, with the same rights as all other groups on campus.
Other expressive issues at Pace have also been in the news recently, as a troubling story surfaced last month that a former Pace University student had been charged with hate crimes for allegedly placing a Koran in a toilet on two occasions.
“FIRE will continue to monitor the state of liberty on Pace’s various campuses until we are certain there will be no more violations of students’ rights,” Harris said.
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. FIRE’s efforts to preserve liberty on campuses across America can be viewed at www.thefire.org.
Samantha Harris, Director of Legal and Public Advocacy, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Stephen J. Friedman, President, Pace University: 212-346-1097; email@example.com
Michelle Simon, Interim Dean, Pace Law School: 914-422-4354; firstname.lastname@example.org
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