WHITE PLAINS, N.Y., January 29, 2007—The Student Bar Association (SBA) at Pace Law School has denied official recognition to a Christian student organization, claiming that the group’s religious identity would not be welcoming to non-Christian students. The group’s leadership contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help soon after the SBA delivered its decision.
“Pace Law School recognizes numerous ideological student organizations, so religious groups should be afforded the same rights,” FIRE President Greg Lukianoff said. “A public university would be constitutionally bound to recognize the Christian group, and a law school that promises freedom of expression and association should uphold those same constitutional ideals.”
Last year, law student Cari Rincker attempted to form the Pace Christian Legal Society (PCLS) as a chapter of the national Christian Legal Society (CLS). In accordance with national CLS rules, the proposed PCLS constitution included a statement of faith and limited membership to students who were willing to “sign, affirm, and endeavor to live their lives in a manner consistent with the Statement of Faith.” The PCLS’ constitution also contained an “Equal Opportunity and Equal Access” clause that 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. Campus reaction to the formation of such a group was so vitriolic, with students circulating petitions against the PCLS and participating in heated e-mail debates, that Rincker withdrew the request for recognition in March.
This past fall, Rincker revised the PCLS constitution, expanding the “Equal Opportunity and Equal Access” clause to also prohibit discrimination on the bases of “religion or Christian denomination” and “sexual orientation.” In addition, Rincker 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 of PCLS.”
Despite the amended constitution and Pace’s clear promise to grant students freedom of association, at its November meeting the SBA rejected the group’s application for recognition. The minutes from that meeting show that the SBA also denied recognition to the Muslim Law Students’ Association.
FIRE wrote a letter to Pace Law School Dean Stephen J. Friedman on January 11, 2007 to urge him to intervene. 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 held a meeting with concerned students on January 17, and Dean for Students Angela D’Agostino informed Rincker that the administration would render a decision on the group’s status after that meeting. Friedman responded to FIRE in a letter dated January 19, saying, “I plan to make a determination on this matter in the near future.” Friedman then informed Rincker in an e-mail on Friday, January 26 that he would reach a final decision by the end of today.
“The Pace administration must not stand idly by while the SBA denies basic associational rights to students of faith,” Lukianoff said. “We hope they make the right decision.”
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.
Greg Lukianoff, President, FIRE: 215-717-3473; email@example.com
Stephen J. Friedman, Dean, Pace Law School: 914-422-4407; SFriedman@law.pace.edu
Angela D’Agostino, Dean for Students, Pace Law School: 914-422-4146; firstname.lastname@example.org