Precinct 333

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Penn State decides "No more Christians here!"

In a troubling move that strikes at the very heart of free exercise of religion on the campus of a public university, Penn State University has decided to refuse recognition to DiscipleMakers, an evangelical Christian group. Why? Because a university administrator has decided that there are enough Christian groups to meet the spiritual needs of university students! The organization is being represented in a lawsuit by the Alliance Defense Fund.

How does this differ from the Catholic University case I commented on below? Why do I support the DiscipleMakers but not the NAACP? After all, the uniqueness requirement is one of the two reasons given by CU for denying recognition to the NAACP. The answer is simple -- it is the difference between public and private.

Catholic University is a private school, and as such is not bound by the requirements of the First Amendment. If a decision were taken to ban all non-Catholic religious groups as inconsistent with the schools mission, it could do so. In the case of the NAACP, it objects to the parent organizations activity in support of abortion, activity which conflicts with the teachings of the Catholic Church. That alone is sufficient reason for denying recognition, and is a standard applied to all organizations.

Penn State, on the other hand, is bound by the First Amendment because it is a state school. It is not the place of the university to be denying religious groups recognition because they are not sufficiently unique (nor, I daresay, should it do so with political groups). In addition, Penn State creates a special hoop for religious groups to jump through, because the consent of the director of the Center for Ethics and Religious Affairs is required above and beyond what non religious groups must do for recognition. As such, there is clear discrimination. And as for the uniqueness requirement, what next? Will the university decide that there need be only one group for liturgical Christians, be they Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, or Orthodox?


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