Christian Group Requires Leaders To Be Christians, University Cries Discrimination

Nicole Russell | Contributor

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a Christian student group at Wayne State University, is fighting for its right to continue serving at the same campus it has been on for over 75 years — again. This is on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision which attempted to squelch government animus toward people who want to openly espouse their religious faith. In fact, this has become a trend as several similar Christian groups at universities and colleges across the country have faced or are dealing with discrimination of this nature.

Wayne State vs. InterVarsity, round two

In March, Wayne State kicked InterVarsity off campus and canceled the group’s reserved meetings, claiming InterVarsity’s leadership requirement was discriminatory. Their discrimination charge? InterVarsity welcomes all students to join as members but requires that its leaders agree with its faith tenants. After the student group filed a lawsuit with the aid of the Becket Fund, of “Little Sisters of the Poor” fame, the university let the group back on campus.

This spring, Becket filed a motion for partial summary judgment to force Wayne to make this decision to include InterVarsity at campus events permanent. Then Wayne filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In that motion, the university made it clear it would not recognize InterVarsity if the group continued to operate under the same rules — despite telling the organization it is free to continue its group and activities.

Because of this, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship student group is now asking the court to protect its right to continue being a part of the campus community.

We’re not discriminating, you’re discriminating.

Wayne State claims InterVarsity is engaging in “religious discrimination” by asking its leaders to be people of faith, even though it lets more than 90 other student groups choose their own leaders by other specifications.

In a statement, Lori Windham, Senior Counsel at Becket, which still represents InterVarsity said, “Wayne State allows 90 student groups to make their own rules for leaders — everyone from fraternities to the Quidditch Club. But Wayne State can’t wave a magic wand and make the Constitution disappear. Christian student groups have the same rights as everyone else.”

Wayne State is actually fine with fraternities, sororities, and club sports imposing requirements and restrictions on students — like the fact that only females can join sororities.

Wayne State’s hypocrisy

Not only is Wayne State actively discriminating against InterVarsity, but they are doing so under the guise that they are protecting students from being discriminated against. The motion reads: InterVarsity sought Wayne State’s “approval — and the privileges that come with it — to enforce an openly discriminatory leadership requirement in clear violation of the school’s non-discrimination policy.” The motion also says that because InterVarsity requires its leadership to be Christians, they are treating other students who want to join the leadership, and who are not Christians, as “second-class citizens.”

I asked Wayne State’s Communicators Director, Matthew Lockwood, for a statement on this. He emailed this to me:

“InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is currently on our campus as a recognized student group, and it remains welcome here. Since InterVarsity was reinstated to Wayne State’s campus in March with its charter intact, we assumed there was no longer an issue. However, attorneys for the group continued to pursue litigation against the university, and Wayne State had no choice but to defend itself and file a motion to dismiss. This apparently is the reason for the news release issued by the Becket law firm. To be clear, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship is welcome on our campus and we have no intention of challenging its status.”

This statement does not align with the motion to dismiss, which clearly states that if InterVarsity keeps its policy it is not “welcome”: “Finally, the policy does not entangle Wayne State in religious matters; to the contrary, it provides a bright-line rule against discriminatory conduct, period. And, of course, if InterVarsity wanted to engage in religious discrimination, then it was free to do so — but not as a recognized student organization with Wayne State’s imprimatur.”

Not only does Wayne State discriminate against Christians under the guise of protecting those who they would supposedly discriminate against, but it makes that case to the judge and then turns around and make nice with the media, blaming the religious liberty firm that represents InterVarsity for the fact that this case is now newsworthy again.

When I asked Mr. Lockwood for further clarification on a statement that seems to contradict the filed legal documents, he responded with an additional statement:

“Even though the issue with InterVarsity was resolved, Wayne State is being forced to defend itself in litigation that only InterVarsity can unilaterally dismiss. Because the litigation is ongoing, we prefer not to comment regarding the details of the case. We have a non-discrimination policy that is consistent with other universities. Initially, it was interpreted in its strictest sense, but the InterVarsity student group is committed to welcoming and including all students, and the university will not intervene in the group’s leadership selection.”

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