One Afternoon, Two Victories for Freedom of Association

Colleges and universities across the U.S. have been misusing nondiscrimination policies to prohibit student clubs from choosing their leaders based on shared beliefs: whether shared political values, or faith in the very religious beliefs the group is formed to foster. Yesterday, this abuse stopped at two Universities.

Business Leaders in Christ was kicked off the University of Iowa Campus last year for requiring that its leaders embrace and seek to live by its religious beliefs.

In a separate case, administrators at the University of Virginia denied students’ application to form a Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) chapter simply because the chapter requires members and leaders to affirm a statement of core conservative values.

This is like telling the College Democrats they cannot be a campus group unless they allow their president to wear a Make America Great Again cap. Political and religious groups form around core values, and should not be forced to abandon those values in order to exist.

Thankfully, there is good news in both of these cases. The ADF Center for Academic Freedom and YAF sent a letter to UVA outlining how this policy violates state law and demanding it recognize YAF. UVA reversed course, and last night, the final vote was to recognize YAF on campus.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom also filed a friend of the court brief on behalf of Jewish and Christian student groups at the University of Iowa supporting Business Leaders in Christ’s legal fight to be recognized on campus. Yesterday, a Federal District Court issued an interim decision ordering the University to reinstate Business Leaders in Christ while the case proceeds. Specifically, the Court noted that the University targeted the Christian group, while permitting other groups to associate around their shared beliefs.

These victories are great news for student groups across the belief spectrum. No student should be discriminated against on the basis of race, sex, or other irrelevant reasons. But these policies should not be misused to prevent religious or political student groups from being religious or political.  This is what happens when schools do not allow these groups to choose leaders who share the very convictions essential to the group’s purpose and who live out those beliefs.  The First Amendment protects everyone’s right to associate around and advocate for shared political, social, or religious views and religious and conservative students should have that same right.

Business Leaders in Christ is represented by Becket Law.

The ADF Center for Academic Freedom represents Chabad Jewish Students Association, Chi Alpha, 24:7, the Christian Medical and Dental Association, and Ratio Christi supporting Business Leaders in Christ as amici curiae.