NOTRE DAME, Ind., June 19, 2014—The University of Notre Dame is standing by its decision to reject the prospective student organization Students for Child-Oriented Policy (SCOP), claiming the group would be “redundant” in light of other existing groups on campus. Notre Dame rejected the group following student opposition to SCOP due to its stance against same-sex marriage. FIRE has intervened on SCOP’s behalf.
FIRE sent Notre Dame a letter on May 23 calling on the university to reverse its decision. Notre Dame responded on June 6 with a defense of SCOP’s rejection, citing the same questionable “redundancy” rationale.
“It is woefully ironic that a group espousing positions supported by the Catholic Church would be denied recognition at Notre Dame, one of our nation’s preeminent Catholic institutions,” said Peter Bonilla, Director of FIRE’s Individual Rights Defense Program. “Notre Dame’s claim that SCOP is ‘redundant’ on campus doesn’t withstand scrutiny and threatens both the free exchange of ideas on campus and true pluralism among student organizations.”
SCOP formed at Notre Dame in early 2014 to advocate for marriage-related policies at the state level. In March, SCOP circulated a petition calling on Notre Dame to take a “clear stand” against same-sex marriage. SCOP’s petition ignited controversy at Notre Dame and prompted more than 600 students to sign a petition urging the university not to recognize the group.
After receiving initial approval from the Student Activities Office, SCOP’s application came before Notre Dame’s Club Coordination Council (CCC) for final approval. On April 30, CCC rejected SCOP’s application, claiming that its activities “closely mirrored” those of other organizations. CCC later specified that SCOP was too similar to two existing student groups: the Orestes Brownson Council on Catholicism and American Politics (OBC) and the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF).
FIRE debunked CCC’s claim in a May 23 letter to Notre Dame, pointing out that the existing student groups differ substantially from SCOP. OBC’s focus is broader than SCOP’s emphasis on marriage, and OBC is avowedly Catholic in its mission, while SCOP is officially nonsectarian. CDF’s mission is wholly separate from SCOP’s, focused on raising awareness of childhood poverty. CDF may not even be currently active at Notre Dame; its website has not been updated since 2007.
FIRE also pointed out a serious double standard at play. Though SCOP was rejected, Notre Dame recognizes multiple environmental groups, Latino student groups, and African-American student groups on campus, in addition to several student groups devoted to various aspects of Catholic faith and practice.
“FIRE is extremely skeptical any time a belief-based student organization is denied recognition for the reason Notre Dame has given,” said Bonilla. “We’ve seen ‘redundancy’ used all too many times as a cover for rejecting groups with unpopular, dissenting, or controversial viewpoints. Notre Dame must not allow SCOP to suffer such a fate.”
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, freedom of expression, academic freedom, due process, 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 thefire.org.
Peter Bonilla, Director, Individual Rights Defense Program, FIRE: 215-717-3473; firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., President, University of Notre Dame: 574-631-3903; email@example.com