Christian Groups ‘De-Recognized’

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship organizations in the massive, 23 campus, 450,000 student California State University system have to abide by new nondiscrimination rules or else become “de-recognized” as official student groups. The change comes as a result of a decision in 2011 by system officials to enforce an “all comers” policy for student club membership.

Mike Uhlenkamp, C.S.U. director of public affairs, explains, “The idea is that if you are a member of the journalism club you cannot require your membership or leadership to be exclusively student journalists. Same with the Republican Clubs, etc.” If a group wants official school recognition, any student must be free to attend and to lead it. But InterVarsity groups require that student leaders assent to a Christian creed. And that, says Uhlenkamp, is “discriminatory against those who are not of that faith.”

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Greg Jao, spokesperson for InterVarsity, expressed his disappointment with C.S.U.’s decision. They have been negotiating the policy shift for three years. “In general we affirm the nondiscrimination policy; we believe every student should have a safe, welcoming diverse experience on campus,” he says. “But we believe a religious group should be led by members who are representative of that religion.”

Uhlenkamp reports that C.S.U. officials have suggested ways in which InterVarsity could be true to itself and maintain recognized status. “They could have a vote, require leaders to attend a minimum number of meetings, pay dues, be in good standing with the club for a specific amount of time or take a skills-based test.”

“I’m really grateful that they’re trying to think of ways around it,” says Jao. “But what Cal State is saying is ‘Remove the overt religious beliefs from your requirements.’ ….It’s a form of dishonesty—a terrible model for students in terms of integrity.”

When asked whether Newman clubs that have Mass on C.S.U. campuses could be de-recognized if non-Catholic attendees are asked not to receive Communion, Uhlenkamp said, “From a broad perspective, I think it would be acceptable [to deny Communion]. But I’d have to take it to lawyers.”

InterVarsity and C.S.U. differ on the tangible consequences of de-recognition. Uhlenkamp says, “De-recognized groups are welcome to participate on campus. They’re just not going to get recognition and the perks that come with that, including discounted use of facilities, faculty advisement and access to student funding.”

But InterVarsity insists this is a much bigger change than the C.S.U. is letting on. The rates to reserve rooms will effectively price them out of operating on some campuses.

While Uhlenkamp believes that the only real question will be “where the group wants to meet and whether they want to work with the campus to find a meeting place—I can choose to live in a million dollar house or I can choose to pay less,” the reality seems to bear out InterVarsity’s concerns.

At Sonoma State, where InterVarsity has operated since 1962, the cheapest fee the group could find for its previously free weekly meeting in a campus conference room adds up to an unusually high $28,000 a year.

For C.S.U., the fundamental issue is California state law, which requires “full and equal access…to any program or activity” that is sponsored by the state or involves state funding.

But at the end of the day, says Jao, the real question is, “Is this good policy? I’m not sure I want public universities or the government to reach into the inner workings of religious groups and say this is how you have to choose leaders if you’re going to have equal access to every student group on campus.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
BRIAN RAGEN
3 years ago
This requirement means that any minority viewpoint can be denied a student organization. If 90% of the students are Jacobins and 10% are Jacobites, the Jacobins will always hold all the offices in the Jacobite Society, if they care to. Only their decision not to bother taking over gives the minority group any forum at at. Would Democrats bother taking over the Young Republicans or hunters bother taking over the campus PETA chapter? It depends on the campus. This rule can only eclipse the diversity of opinion at an institution that enacts it.
geoffrey greetham
3 years ago
When one goes to the INTERVARSITY web site and reviews the makeup of its Board and key staff and then looks its financial reports, and then reads its position, vision etc; any open minded reader can clearly conclude that this is another tool of the religious right to turn the world into another religious state just as the fanatics of other religions are trying to do. There is little chance of "Jacobins" taking over the organization. First the author forgets that his 90%/10% membership means the 90% can usually out vote the 10% and established their desired leadership. If not then the 90% are in the wrong organization and should seek membership in groups more suited to their views. A membership in which 10% can out vote the 90% majority means - the majority either lacks commitment to their values/cause or they are so fractious that they can nott come to a consensous and elect a leader.. Nothing in the University's policy dictates who the leadership will be. As on most campuses, organizations are generally free to elect their leadership based upon fair elections,and non discriminatory policies. Lastly, the argument fails because and educated person knows the analogy is ludicrous. The Jacobites have not been a religious movement in centuries if ever. Secondly, the argument assumes that a small group of atheists, Mormons, Catholics, Marxists or other group would actually conspire to join the INTERVARSITY organization (or similar group) and try to take it over. This assumes some great conspiracy and like most conspiracy theories, they are nothing but urban legends or the views of the paranoid. America is a nation which operates under the rule of law. The constitution allows the majority to do as it pleases. It also protects the minority from the tyranny of the majority - fact the majority only wants emphasized when they find their status quo in jeopardy. Do not take this as another left wing attack against evangelical religion. They should be able to create student groups just as others do at most colleges and universities in this country. What they are not allowed to do is set discriminatory leadership selection practices. If the organization can not keep a following of like minded individuals then it simply fails to deserve any right to complain reading its leadership. That is the concept behind a democratic nation of laws.What INTERVARSITY and similar organizations want is an exemption from constitutional protections for all based upon their their religious precepts. This is the same as Hindu system of caste, Islamic sharia, or the systems of belief that brought us the Holocaust, the 1991 crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in Burma, the Croatian War of Independence that was committed by Serb-led JNA, and the activities if ISIS currently ongoing. The Constitution of the United States allows all to worship (or not) as they chose. It does not nor ever did give any religious belief a higher authority than the principals expounded therein. The two previous comments in opposition to the university requirement for organizations to abide by new nondiscrimination rules is simply more propaganda by a ever shrinking minority who can never accept that their God created a universe that is forever moving forward, that is to say progressing. Whether you believe that the planet is only some 6500 year old or billions of years old, time, progress and the planet ( and its inhabitants) have steadily progressed toward a life which brings more opportunity - and yes more challenges - to each generation despite the never ending efforts of Luddites, religious fanatics, Kings, and the power elites a- group whose driving doctrine has been to maintain the staus quo. A position which assures their power and privilege at the expense of the many billions who must go with less so as to ensure the few "right thinking" people continue in their life of stasis and delusion that if we only stay where we are then all will be good. An idea I might add can not be found in the Bible, Koran, etc. etc.
John Corr
3 years ago
Good can come from this shameful episode if it helps focus on what is going on in American educational institutions. I was drawn to this topic on the basis of what I observed while working at a community college and working and studying at a major state university. What I observed was that institutional direction was not entirely exercised by the institution. This was because members of secular, often gender-related, advocacy organizations on campus implemented the values of their organizations while sitting across the table from each other in institutional decision-making units. In effect, they operated like a belief system imposing its values on the rest of the community. Prudent administrators, their own jobs at risk, had to take notice of their stealth power, which affected everything from budgets to who was going to be hired. The advantage of the advocacy groups was that they were the only value group so organized on campus. They have no organized opposition As a matter of fact, many people on campus did not realize what was happening. The same happens in college -town politics and even on condo boards. There is an obvious gap between faculty and student values, a situation perpetuated by the already entrenched, often gender-related, advocacy groups who control entrance to administration and faculties. These advocacy groups promoted secular, relativist values as a belief system. I observed a History instructor pause in her lecture to assure the students that “everything is relative.” I once passed books arranged in a book-exhibit section of the major university library without the usual placard saying what the exhibit was about. A quick look at the books seemed to indicate that the theme might be about feminist issues. I emailed the library, asking what was the theme of the exhibit and received no reply. Many students, in my view, have little grasp of the rationale of belief, if any, they might have found in their churches and families. In this situation, they are vulnerable to the indoctrination that is coming at them from all sides from professor models. This situation is more than a "Sign of the Times." It is something to oppose in an organized way.The fact that is hasn't been effectively opposed or even acknowledged tells us something about leadership and lack of same.

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