DAYTON, Ohio, March 2, 2009
—Wright State University has banned a Christian group from meeting on campus because of its requirement that voting members be Christian and its refusal to accept "nondiscrimination" language that would eliminate faith-based standards for its voting members. In response, the Campus Bible Fellowship has turned to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) for help.
"A Christian group has the right to be Christian, a Jewish group has the right to be Jewish, and a Muslim group has the right to be Muslim," said FIRE President Greg Lukianoff. "Courts have affirmed this principle time and time again. It is shocking that in a free society, public universities like Wright State still don't seem to understand or respect this crucial component of religious liberty."
After more than 30 years of existence as a registered student organization at Wright State, the Campus Bible Fellowship (CBF) was prohibited from re-registering in 2009. On January 30, according to CBF representatives Joe Hollaway and Gary Holtz, CBF was informed by Wright State's Office of Student Activities that its registration was being denied for two reasons. First, CBF refused to adopt university-mandated nondiscrimination language in its membership requirements that would have stripped the group of the right to require voting members to adhere to religious and behavioral standards. (Nonvoting members did not have to meet these standards.) Second, Wright State objected to the requirement in CBF's constitution that voting members "accept Jesus Christ as their personal savior" and subscribe to the group's articles of faith. Strangely, however, Wright State has so far refused to put this decision in writing.
CBF, which has been unable to meet on campus since the decision, contacted FIRE for help. FIRE wrote to Wright State President David R. Hopkins on February 12, informing him of federal legal precedent setting forth the principle that "if Wright State is to allow expressive organizations to exist on its campus at all, it must allow religious organizations to exist, to define their missions, [and] to select their own members." FIRE also pointed to its victories in similar religious liberty cases at Ohio State University and at Tufts University.
"Wright State's demands are not only unconstitutional, they are nonsensical," said Robert L. Shibley, FIRE's vice president. "It makes no sense for the university to force a group that exists to communicate its version of the Christian message to accept voting members or leaders who reject that very message."